Born on February 15, 1968, in Madrid, Spain, Richard Blanco, of Cuban heritage, immigrated to the United States and eventually worked as a civil engineer. He turned to writing and studying poetry and has become an award-winning author with books like City of a Hundred Fires and Directions to the Beach of the Dead. Blanco is America's fifth inaugural poet, writing for President Barack Obama's 2013 ceremony. He's also the first Latino, first immigrant, first openly gay and youngest person to be the inaugural poet for the United States.
Birth and Background
Richard Blanco was born in Madrid, Spain, on February 15, 1968. His parents left Cuba after the rise of Fidel Castro to power and traveled to Spain before moving to New York City when Blanco was an infant. They eventually settled in Miami, Florida, as part of the area's large Cuban community of the 1970s. As Blanco has put it, "I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States," and explorations of culture would be a major component of his future work.
An Engineer Who Wrote Poetry
Though having a creative bent, Blanco's parents decreed that he would have to study medicine, law or engineering, and hence he chose the latter as he was very skilled at math. After earning a degree from Florida International University, he worked as a civil engineer in Miami for a time, but by his mid-20s, felt the urge to write on issues of identity and personal history. He returned to FIU to earn a master's degree in fine art and creative writing, with poet Campbell McGrath serving as mentor. After graduation and publishing his first book, Blanco worked as a teacher at several universities.
Blanco released his first book of poetry in 1999, City of a Hundred Fires, a critically acclaimed collection that won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. In 2005, he published Directions to the Beach of the Dead, which received the Beyond Margins Award. The year 2011 saw Blanco putting forth the electronic chap book Place of Mind, and the following year he released Looking for the Gulf Motel, a full collection of poems that touches on the author's life as a gay man negotiating space between domestic and immigrant cultures.
Blanco's poetry, often written in prose-like style, is filled with captivating imagery that showcases his ethnic heritage and the universal feelings connected to the search for identity. One work, "Betting on America," recounts childhood memories of viewing the Miss America competition as a child, with his family taking bets on who would win the pageant. Another poem, "Her Voices," looks at his painful relationship with his grandmother, who was at times abusive and criticized his effeminacy growing up.
Becoming Inaugural Poet
After the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama, Blanco was informed that he had been chosen as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, following in the footsteps of greats like Elizabeth Alexander, Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. Blanco read a poem at Obama's Capitol swearing-in ceremony on January 21, 2013—becoming the first Latino and first openly gay-identified writer to hold the post, as well as the youngest thus far, at the age of 44.
"As I reflect on this, I see how the American story is, in many ways, my story—a country still trying to negotiate its own identity, caught between the paradise of its founding ideals and the realities of its history...," Blanco said in regard to his selection as inaugural poet. "Regardless of my cultural, socioeconomic background and my sexuality, I have been given a place at the table, or more precisely, at the podium, because that is America."
In September 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that Blanco was working on a memoir, For All of Us, One Today, slated to be released in November 2013.
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