Richard Blanco, 2013
February 15, 1968
|Occupation||Poet, Public Speaker, Civil Engineer, Professor, Memoirist, Author|
|Alma mater||Florida International University|
|Notable works||"One Today"|
The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood
For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey
Until We Could Film
Looking for the Gulf Motel
Directions to the Beach of the Dead
City of a Hundred Fires
Nowhere but Here
Boston Strong: The Poem
Richard Blanco (born February 15, 1968) is an American poet, public speaker, author and civil engineer. He is the fifth poet to read at a United States presidential inauguration, having read for Barack Obama's second inauguration. He is the first immigrant, the first Latino, the first openly gay person and the youngest person to be the U.S. inaugural poet. This poet continues his journey and wrote other books such as 'How to Love a Country; City of a Hundred Fires, which received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press; Directions to The Beach of the Dead, recipient of the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center; and Looking for The Gulf Motel, recipient of the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award. He has also authored the memoirs For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, winner of the Lambda Literary Prize. He later was a professor, having taught at Georgetown University, American University, and Wesleyan University. He serves as the first Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets.
Richard Blanco's mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born on February 15, 1968. Forty-five days later, the family immigrated once more to New York City. Blanco was raised and educated in Miami.
Between 1999 and 2001, Blanco traveled extensively through Spain, Italy, France, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and New England. He has taught at Wesleyan University, Georgetown University, American University, Central Connecticut State University, and Writer's Center. Blanco is a member of the prestigious Macondo Writers Workshop, the workshop founded by Sandra Cisneros.
He explored his Cuban heritage in his early works and his role as a gay man in Cuban-American culture in Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012). He explained: "It's trying to understand how I fit between negotiating the world, between being mainstream gay and being Cuban gay." In the poem "Queer Theory, According to My Grandmother," he described how his grandmother warned him as a young boy: "For God's sake, never pee sitting down ... /I've seen you" and "Don't stare at The Six-Million-Dollar Man./I've seen you." and "Never dance alone in your room." According to Time magazine, he "views the more conservative, hard-line exile cohort of his parents' generation ... with a skeptical eye."John Dolan was critical of his style, calling his work "pure identity poetics, unsullied by one single stray thought or original turn of phrase."
His work has appeared in The Nation, Ploughshares,Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly Review, New England Review, and Americas Review. Blanco is part of the online Letras Latinas Oral History Project archives.
On January 8, 2013, he was named the inaugural poet for Barack Obama's second inauguration, the fifth person to play that role. He was the first immigrant, first Latino, and first gay person to be the inaugural poet. He was also the youngest. He was asked to compose three poems from which inauguration officials selected the one he would read. After reading "One Today," he said to his mother: "Well, Mom, I think we're finally American." The poem he presented, "One Today", was called "a humble, modest poem, one presented to a national audience as a gift of comradeship, and in the context of political, pop, and media culture, a quiet assertion that poetry deserves its place in our thoughts on this one day, and every day." Others called it "a rare break from the staid custom of ceremony that the rest of the afternoon brought" and assessed it as "Overall, the poem is successful, art meant to orient, to reconfirm collective identity in a time of recent tragedy. It's an optimistic, careful piece meant to encourage, a balm." Blanco planned to publish all three poems he composed for the event. He did so with the publication of For All of Us, One Today on November 19, 2013. The memoir chronicles his experiences creating the poems commissioned for the inaugural. It includes "One Today" along with the two other poems, "Mother Country" and "What We Know of Country," in English and Spanish.
In May 2013, Blanco wrote and performed a poem for the Boston Strong Benefit Concert. A chapbook of the poem was also published. The net proceeds of all sales of the chapbook benefit the One Fund, which helps victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. In addition, he has written and performed occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba, Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Fragrance Awards at Lincoln Center.
When asked in a May 7, 2012 interview with La Bloga whether he considered himself a Cuban writer or simply a writer, Blanco responded: "I am a writer who happens to be Cuban, but I reserve the right to write about anything I want, not just my cultural identity. Aesthetically and politically, I don't exclusively align myself with any one particular group--Latino, Cuban, gay, or 'white'--but I embrace them all. Good writing is good writing. I like what I like."
Blanco's first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, was published in 1998 to critical acclaim, winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The collection explored his cultural yearnings and contradictions as a Cuban-American coming of age in Miami and captured the details of his transformational first trip to Cuba, his figurative homeland.
In 2012, Blanco's third book of poetry, Looking for The Gulf Motel, was published; it related Blanco's complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities, and received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award.
Beacon Press will publish Blanco's fourth book of poetry, How to Love a Country, in March 2019.