Alumnae/i Feature

Asiyah Herrera ’25 Writes a Love Letter to Roxbury

This year, English major and education minor Asiyah Herrera ’25 will see her words in print — large print. Her poem is part of the “Love Letters to Roxbury” mural project on display in the Roxbury Public Library.

“I started taking poetry seriously when I was 16 or 17, after I learned about National Poetry Writing Month,” recalls Herrera. “I realized that my journal entries were more like poetry. I think I wrote it for a long time without knowing it.”

In high school, Herrera became a member of the 826 Boston Youth Literary Advisory Board, where she was selected as a team leader for two years. “We published a book during the pandemic, with a foreword written by Amanda Gorman,” she says, “and we worked on a podcast, as well.”

Mural

For potential inclusion in the mural project, the students were told to write poems about Roxbury. “I’ve lived on the same street my entire life — until moving to the Simmons dorms, which are about five minutes away from my house,” says Herrera, who was excited to express her feelings in poetry. “I love my city, my home, my street — I love everything about it. I feel like there is a lot happening here.”

But that didn’t make writing the poem easy. “Initially I had a really hard time writing that poem. I didn’t know how to write about things I saw every day. Then we went away for the summer. When we came home, driving through the neighborhood, I realized I had missed this place so much. I pulled out my phone and finished the poem.”

The artist, Joe Wardwell, met with the group virtually and listened to them workshop their poems, so their words could influence his artwork. The final panel, which includes Herrera’s poem, “Worlds Collided,” was put up this January. Due to the pandemic, she didn’t meet Wardwell in person until fall of 2021, though she had seen his studio via Zoom. “It felt surreal. Looking at the photo of the final panel, it didn’t seem real. My words are translated into Spanish and Japanese, to represent all the sides of my ancestry. Another poem is translated in Cape Verdean Creole, so the mural represents other languages and backgrounds. It’s beautiful.”

In 2020, Herrera was a finalist for the Boston Youth Poet Laureate. “I had to get used to sharing my work,” she recalls. “I had to read poems that hadn’t been workshopped.” As a veteran of such experiences, she encourages Simmons students to share their work. “Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. If you have something to say, say it. No one’s going to knock you for speaking up.” During a gap year before starting her studies at Simmons, she became a Teaching Artist for the 826 Boston Youth Literary Advisory Board, supporting high school students with their writing, mostly poetry.

“It’s rewarding to see youth writers getting attention for their work.” Herrera finds inspiration in her hometown, as well as important social justice topics and current events. “Seeing other people’s art about social justice inspires me. Poetry is so underground, which makes it fun and exciting. Poets are powerful people, who deserve a lot more recognition than they get.”

New to poetry? Asiyah recommends: 

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