My friend David Hernández had a heart attack at dawn today and died.
David Hernández — that David Hernández — the poet, the city’s unofficial poet laureate, the playful dude in the fedora, the guy with the perennial smile. The famous poet.
The street dude who took this little Cuban kid who’d grown up in Indiana and introduced her to the beauty of the city more than 30 years ago, infected her with his own enduring love for the muse that hurt and thrilled Nelson Algren and Gwendolyn Brooks and David himself and, eventually, all of us too. I was one of thousands: the writers and poets and musicians and painters who twirled around David, our magical imp, our towering barrio bard.
Let me tell you what happened when David reached up and cupped your face in his hands: You felt like heaven itself was shining a light on you, like you had to be good. Not just good at what you do, but you had to be a good person because this good , good man loved you in that moment.
A lot of people are going to talk about David and his poetry — and it’s important that they do. And they’ll talk about his legacy with Street Sounds, his poetry band, and his contributions to the Latino Arts movement in this town. And all of that is important too.
But I want to say something else: I want to talk about David’s heart, David’s generosity, because that was his real gift. It wasn’t just that he taught and touched thousands upon thousands of students, that he helped so many poets get started in his classes or by inviting us to read with him, or that he’d talk us up at crucial moments.