Richard Blanco, an acclaimed Cuban-American poet, will serve as Inaugural Poet at President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. Blanco will be the youngest, as well as the first Latino and gay poet, to write and recite a poem at a U.S presidential inauguration ceremony. He would also be the fifth poet to recite at an inauguration.
“Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity,” said President Obama.
In a New York Times article today, Blanco talked of being raised in a very traditional Cuban household with his parents and grandmother. His parents left Cuba when his mother was pregnant; he was born in Spain but the family emigrated to the U.S. when he was a baby. He was raised in Florida. Blanco said he not come out about his sexuality until later; he said his grandmother used to think he was “too feminine.”
When Blanco was younger, his family wanted him to study engineering, math or law. He chose engineering, and worked in the field for a while, but his true love was writing, so he pursued a graduate degree in writing. His graduate thesis led to his first poetry collection, “City of a Hundred Fires,” in 1997, which won a prestigious poetry prize.
In his poem “América,” from his first book, Blanco captures the coming together of two cultures through his experience as a young boy in an immigrant household.
I spoke English; my parent’s didn’t.
We didn’t live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke’s family wasn’t like us either–
they didn’t have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn’t have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
Writer Sandra Cisneros said of Blanco’s poems, ”What a delicia these poems are, sad, tender, and filled with longing. Like an old photograph, a saint’s statue worn away by the devout, a bolero on the radio on a night full of rain. Me emocionan. There is no other way to say it,” said Cisneros.
Apart from “City of a Hundred Fires,” Blanco has written two other poetry books, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” and is working on a memoir. Blanco lives in Bethel, Maine with his partner.
But for these past few weeks, (Blanco found out he was chosen as Inaugural Poet on December 12th but did not tell anyone, not even his mother), Blanco’s task has been to write an original poem and recite it on January 21st, as the nation – and the world – listens to this American poet and son of Cuban exiles.
The Latino poet said in the New York Times interview that he has always related to the President, especially since they both share a multicultural experience. “Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background,” Mr. Blanco said. “There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him.”