Acclaimed Cuban-American Poet
President Obama's Inaugural Poet 2013
"Mr. Obama picked Mr. Blanco because the poet’s 'deeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American.'” —Addie Whisenant, Inaugural committee spokeswoman
"Richard Blanco's speech invites the reader in with its search for home. His lyrics open doors onto his Cuban immigrant family, his father's early death, and his own migration from a life in Florida to a life in Maine. His speech houses a generous love of others and a persistent reach for what is absent." —Spencer Reese
Richard Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States—meaning his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Only forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more and settled in New York City, then eventually in Miami where he was raised and educated.
His acclaimed first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, explores the yearnings and negotiation of cultural identity as a Cuban- American, and received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. His second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, won the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for its continued exploration of the universal themes of cultural identity and homecoming. Looking for The Gulf Motel, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012) examines the blurred lines of gender, the frailty of his father-son relationship, and the intersection of his cultural and sexual identities as a Cuban-American gay man living in rural Maine. Jim Elledge writes, "Every poem in Looking for The Gulf Motel packs an emotional wallop and an intellectual caress. A virtuoso of art and craft who juggles the subjective and the objective beautifully, Blanco is at the height of his creative prowess and one of the best of the best poets writing today."
In January 2013, Blanco was selected by President Obama to be the inaugural poet, joining the ranks of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. In the profile Poet's Kinship With the President the New York Times wrote, "Like Mr. Obama, who chronicled his multicultural upbringing in a best-selling autobiography, Dream From My Father, Mr. Blanco has been on a quest for personal identity through the written word. He said his affinity for Mr. Obama springs from his own feeling of straddling different worlds; he is Latino and gay (and worked as a civil engineer while pursuing poetry). His poems are laden with longing for the sights and smells of the land his parents left behind." President Obama said in a statement, "It is an honor to have Richard Blanco in our second inauguration. His contributions to the fields of poetry and art have paved the way for future generations of writers. Richard's work is well-suited for an opening that will celebrate the strength and diversity of our great country."
NPR Interview with Blanco about becoming the Inaugural Poet
Washington Post's article about the Inaugural Poet
Academy of American Poets Interview with Richard Blanco
LA Times Article about Richard Blanco's Inaugural Poem
Blanco's poems have appeared in top literary journals including, The Nation, the New Republic, Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, and TriQuarterly Review; and several anthologies including, The Best American Poetry, Great American Prose Poems, Breadloaf Anthology of New American Poets, and American Poetry: The Next Generation. He has been featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Blanco is recipient of two Florida Artist Fellowships, a Residency Fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and is a John Ciardi Fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. A builder of cities as well as poems, he holds a bachelors of science degree in Civil Engineering and a Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
Richard Blanco lives in Maine with his partner.
About Looking for the Gulf Motel (2012)
Family continues to be a wellspring of inspiration and learning for Blanco. His third book of poetry, Looking for the Gulf Motel, is a genealogy of the heart, exploring how his family’s emotion legacy has shaped—and continues shaping—his perspectives. The collection is presented in three movements, each one chronicling his understanding of a particular facet of life from childhood into adulthood. As a child born into the milieu of his Cuban exiled familia, the first movement delves into early questions of cultural identity and their evolution into his unrelenting sense of displacement and quest for the elusive meaning of home. The second, begins with poems peering back into family again, examining the blurred lines of gender, the frailty of his father-son relationship, and the intersection of his cultural and sexual identities as a Cuban-American gay man living in rural Maine. In the last movement, poems focused on his mother’s life shaped by exile, his father’s death, and the passing of a generation of relatives, all provide lessons about his own impermanence in the world and the permanence of loss. Looking for the Gulf Motel is looking for the beauty of that which we cannot hold onto, be it country, family, or love.
About Directions to The Beach of the Dead (2005)
“This heartfelt collection of poems is an endless pursuit of what we hope to become.” —Multicultural Review
Richard Blanco explores the familiar, unsettling journey for home and connections, those anxious musings about other lives: “Should I live here? Could I live here?” Whether the exotic (“I’m struck with Maltese fever …I dream of buying a little Maltese farm…) or merely different (“Today, home is a cottage with morning in the yawn of an open window…”), he examines the restlessness that threatens from merely staying put, the fear of too many places and too little time. The words are redolent with his Cuban heritage: Marina making mole sauce; Tía Ida bitter over the revolution, missing the sisters who fled to Miami; his father, especially, “his hair once as black as the black of his oxfords…” Yet this is a volume for all who have longed for enveloping arms and words, and for that sanctuary called home. “So much of my life spent like this-suspended, moving toward unknown places and names or returning to those I know, corresponding with the paradox of crossing, being nowhere yet here.” Blanco embraces juxtaposition. There is the Cuban Blanco, the American Richard, the engineer by day, the poet by heart, the rhythms of Spanish, the percussion of English, the first-world professional, the immigrant, the gay man, the straight world. There is the ennui behind the question: why cannot I not just live where I live? Too, there is the precious, fleeting relief when he can write "…I am, for a moment, not afraid of being no more than what I hear and see, no more than this:..." It is what we all hope for, too.
About City of a Hundred Fires (1998)
"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. M e emocionan. There is no other way to say it, They emotion me." - Sandra Cisneros
Winner of the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. City of a Hundred Fires presents us with a journey through the cultural coming of age experiences of the hyphenated Cuban-American. This distinct group, known as the Generation (as coined by Bill Teck), are the bilingual children of Cuban exiles nourished by two cultural currents the fragmented traditions and transferred nostalgia of their parents' Caribbean homeland and the very real and present America where they grew up and live.
Richard Blanco's Website