Growing up in North Denver, Bobby LeFebre was inspired by conscious hip-hop artists such as Tupac Shakur, N.W.A. and Public Enemy.
Their beats, rhymes and lives helped shape his love for and understanding of the power of words from a young age, he said.
Today, the 37-year-old poet, writer and performer is shaping the worldview of generations young and old through his poetry and hit play “Northside.” And his words will now be amplified even louder with his appointment by Gov. Jared Polis as Colorado’s new poet laureate.
LeFebre is the state’s eighth poet laureate and the first person of color and Latino person to hold the nearly century-old position. The Colorado poet laureate’s duties include advocating for poetry, literacy and literature, and the honorary position includes a modest $2,000 honorarium for each of the four years of the term.
“He embodies the spirit of a ‘Colorado for All’ where everyone is included. I know he will be a strong advocate for the arts and art education as a way to bring us together,” Polis said in a statement announcing LeFebre’s appointment.
Finding his voice
Beyond North Denver and the hip-hop albums of his youth, LeFebre traces his artistic roots to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he earned a degree in psychology in 2004.
Education was pivotal – even transformational – for the young artist. But it wasn’t always a sure thing. “I grew up in Denver’s Northside of working class Chicano families,” he said. “My parents didn’t have the resources to pay for it, so I knew I had to take care of tuition.”
The first-generation college student also knew he had a passion for art, culture and helping people. Beyond his psychology major, he took classes in Chicana/o studies and Africana studies, where he read literature from diverse cultures. The stories and testimonies he studied provided him with a new perspective on the world.
LeFebre credits the late MSU Denver Chicana/o Studies Professor and poet Lalo Delgado for helping shape his outlook and art. Delgado is considered the grandfather of Chicano poetry nationwide and the University’s Chicana/o Studies Department hosts the Lalo Delgado Poetry Festival every spring.
After classes, he would bring Delgado his poems for feedback, LeFebre recalled. The luminary’s notes played a vital part in forging his artistic identity.
“I really found my voice at MSU Denver,” he said. “The way I see the world was formed and shaped by the time I spent there.”
The University is still a beacon of opportunity for first-generation college students, who make up nearly 50% of the student population. MSU Denver was also recently designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education, ensuring that more students like LeFebre will have an opportunity to find their voices.
Today, LeFebre’s voice is one of the most powerful in Colorado – and he isn’t wasting any time getting down to the business of being poet laureate. His fall schedule includes meetings with English teachers at Northfield High School who are interested in using his poetry in class, appearances on Denver7’s “Politics Unplugged” with Anne Trujillo and prepping to perform for Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15). LeFebre recently did an interview with a conservative radio host, and he plans to do more interviews throughout Colorado with anybody who wants to talk about art, diversity and inclusion.
“I have the ability to code-switch and to be able to talk to different people of different backgrounds. I value diversity, and I’m excited to engage my people, and people that don’t think like me, and about being able to dialogue about who we are and why we are,” he said.
LeFebre is part of a long list of diverse local writers and artists who honed their crafts at MSU Denver. Kali Fajardo-Anstine, who graduated in 2009, recently published her debut collection of short stories that digs into issues of identity and honors her Denver roots. Local luminary Carlos Frésquez, alumnus and associate professor at MSU Denver, is a celebrated Chicano artist whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
Reimagining what is possible in poetry
The poet laureate title is only the latest feather in LeFebre’s cap: He’s a two-time Grand Slam Champion, a National Poetry Slam Finalist, an Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist and a two-time TEDx speaker. He’s also founder of Café Cultura, now known as Sacred Voices, a youth-focused nonprofit promoting preservation and exploration of oral and written traditions through open-mic poetry events, and a fellow at the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. More recently, LeFebre has been basking in his success as a playwright.
“Northside” opened in June at Denver’s Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center and closed Aug. 25 after 26 consecutive sold-out shows. At the end of August, LeFebre and Tony Garcia, Su Teatro’s executive artistic director and faculty member in MSU Denver’s Chicana/o Studies Department, announced that the show will be produced at North High School on Sept. 13 and 14.
“Northside” focuses on the impact gentrification has had in North Denver as the historic neighborhood became the Highlands. It follows a young Latino couple who are trying to purchase a home in the neighborhood in which they were raised, showing the challenges they face, including competition in the real-estate market with a young white couple who want to move into a growing city.
“The community was proud of the piece, and I think that’s what makes me the proudest. Every night, there was something emotional,” LeFebre said.
After each show, he and the cast greeted attendees and listened to their feedback, he said.
“There were people coming up to us in tears, people hugging us and saying nothing at all,” he said. “It was a beautiful exchange of energy.”