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David Hernandez

Famous Poet


 Photo by Organic Headshots,

David Hernandez was born in Cidra, Puerto Rico on May 1, 1946. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1950s. David began writing poetry when he was 11 years old and never stopped. His first book "Despertando" came out in 1971 and is considered the first collection of poetry by a Chicago Puerto Rican. One of his signature poems, "1951: Puerto Rico" first appeared in this publication. It reflects the reality he faced as a Puerto Rican coming from the small town of Cidra to the metropolitan city of Chicago. Also in this book was "Damen-Divison, Chicago Spanish Soldier" which spoke about his father who in Puerto Rico was a driver of a "carro publico" to now working in the confines of a factory.

For over forty years David Hernandez impressed audiences with his singular poetic style and is credited with sparking the city and state's ongoing poetry renaissance. Centering his work on the rhythms of urban life, He captured universal themes inside a humorous and resonating voice. As one of the first Latino poets to be published in Chicago, Hernandez was a significant member of the literary, artistic and cultural community through his role as a poet, educator, administrator, events organizer and performer. Though much of David's poetry revolved around his experience as a Puerto Rican, he believed in uniting people through culture and art.

As an educator David touched the lives of over 600,000 students from public schools, community and regional programs, to libraries, colleges, universities and professionals at agencies and corporations. Through writing classes he conducted, David organized student performances, poetry festivals, poetry contests and edited several anthologies including, Nosotros/Us, The Other Chicago Poets, Time Is Running Out, Peoria Stroll, Rice N' Zines and Celebrating Our Differences, to name a few. Hernandez has been called the "unofficial Poet Laureate of Chicago" and was commissioned by the city to write and perform the 1987 poem for Chicago's sesquicentennial anniversary celebrating 150 years, as well as the inaugural poem for the late Mayor Harold Washington. He also wrote and performed the inaugural poem for former 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores.

A founding member of the Latino arts movement, he received the Puerto Rican Cultural Heritage Award 2002. Hernandez maintained his position as master artist through his commitment as a board member, editor and panelist. He served as staff member of the Associated Colleges of The Midwest, DePaul University, Columbia College, Chicago Children's Museum, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago Public Schools, World Language Program, and the Old Town School of Folk Music. He juried for the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago Office of Cultural Affairs and was a member of The Society of Midland Authors. In 1971, Hernandez founded ‘Sonidos de la Calle/Street Sounds', a poetry with music performance ensemble that received critical acclaim, awards and recorded CDs, audio tapes, DVDs and videos. The group's concerts took them from smoke-filled rooms to the governor's mansion, performing in schools, colleges, festivals and special events such as The Taste of Chicago, the Jazz Festival, Amnesty International, the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Illinois State Library, where they were awarded the Patron's Choice Award. They were once featured on WTTW's Arts Across Illinois series.

David Hernandez was rewarded with considerable critical recognition. His road to semiofficial poetic status was public and well traveled. He was keynote speaker at the National Storytelling Conference representing the city and state. David was a 1st recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Outstanding Poet of Illinois Award and received grants and recognitions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Council Of Christians and Jews, the Chicago Symphony Museum, the Chicago Humanities Council, the Illinois State Library, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Chicago Department Of Cultural Affairs, DuSable Museum, Chicago History Museum and winner of the Victory Gardens Theater Play Exposition, to name a few.

His poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, periodicals and newspapers including Red Hot Salsa, edited by Lori Marie Carlson and introduced by Oscar Hijuelos, Heretics and Myth Makers, Unsettling America, The Illinois Poets, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times and After Hours magazine. He has several books of poetry: Despertando/Waking Up, Rooftop Piper, Elvis Is Dead But At Least He's Not Gaining Any Weight, Satin City Lullaby and The Urban Poems published by Fractal Edge Press. His various recordings with his group David Hernandez & Street Sounds include Satin City Serenade, Immigrants/Liquid Thoughts, Armitage Street by WTTW, David Hernandez & Street Sounds-Live and an interview and performance for the Smithsonian Institute Folk & Life Cultural Heritage program.

David is survived by his wife of 20 years, artist Batya Hernandez (nee Mandel); their daughter Matea Flora Hernandez "Matty Flowers"; stepchildren Jeff and Chana Goldman; step-granddaughter Benita Goldman; and siblings Sam (Lupe) Hernandez, Alma (Soloman) Wells, and Eliud (Frieda) Hernandez.

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