Richard Blanco

President Obama's Inaugural Poet 2013
Lambda Literary Award for Memoir

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • CUBA: Lifting the Emotional Embargo
  • CUBA: Past to Future
  • Becoming American: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey
  • The Poetics of Identity & Exile
  • Cultural Sexuality: Gay Latino Survival Kit
  • Building Bridges: The Poet Engineer at Work
  • The Occasional Poem: Poetry in the Public Realm
  • Just Tell Me a Story: Writing the Memoir
  • Teaching Poetry Like a Poet—for Educators
  • 5 Ways to Break a Line & Other Mysteries

 


“Blanco’s contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved the path forward for future generations of writers. 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.” —President Barack Obama

“In Whitmanesque fashion, radiating oracular authority, Blanco’s inaugural poem catalogs and celebrates the variegated lives, cultures, languages, and landscapes that constitute our nation.” —Major Jackson

“Richard Blanco’s speech invites the reader in with its search for home, a generous love of others, and a persistent reach for what is absent.” —Spencer Reese

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 15th, 1968. Forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more to New York City. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the concerns of place and belonging that would shape his life and work. Eventually, the family settled in Miami, where he was raised and educated. Growing up among close-knit Cuban exiles instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he’d carry into his adult life as a writer and as a consummate storyteller—both on the page and the stage. Today, Blanco is a sought after speaker who delights audiences around the nation and the world with his dynamic storytelling and dramatic readings. Supporting diversity, marriage equality, immigration, arts education, cultural exchange, and other important issues of our day, Blanco routinely speaks at a variety of venues and functions, including fundraisers and galas, professional development conferences, middle and high schools, universities, commencement ceremonies, writing conferences, and literary festivals.

Though possessed by a strong creative spirit since childhood, Blanco also excelled in math and the sciences. As such, his parents encouraged him to study engineering, believing it would ensure a more stable and rewarding career for him. He took their advice, earning a degree from Florida International University in 1991, and began working as a consulting civil engineer in Miami. In his mid-20s he was compelled to express his creative side through writing, prompted by questions of cultural identity and his personal history. He returned to Florida International University, where he was mentored by poet Campbell McGrath and earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1997.

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, and captured the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba, his figurative homeland. After the success of his first book, Blanco took a hiatus from his engineering career, and accepted a position at Central Connecticut State University as a professor of creative writing. While living in Connecticut, he met his current life-partner, Dr. Mark Neveu, a renowned research scientist.

Driven by a curiosity to examine the essence of place and belonging, Blanco became an extensive traveler; and eventually moved with Mark to Guatemala, then to Washington, DC in 2002. In DC, Blanco taught at Georgetown and American universities, The Writers Center, and at the Arlington Country Detention Facility. Poems relating to his journeys through Spain, Italy, France, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and New England comprised his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (2005), which received the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for its explorations of the ideal of home and connections sought through place, culture, family, and love.

But soon Blanco was on the move again, returning in 2004 to Miami, his home away from home, where he resumed his engineering career. Engineer by day, he designed several town revitalization projects; poet by night, he completed an electronic chapbook of poems, Place of Mind. He also began working on another collection before moving once again. This time to Bethel, Maine, a ski resort town on the foothills of the White Mountains, where he sought the peace and tranquility of nature, which he considers a universal home. While in Maine, he completed Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012; it related the author’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities.

After the re-election of President Barack Obama, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, following in the footsteps of such great writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Blanco wrote “One Today,” an original poem for the occasion, which he read at Obama’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on January 21, 2013. That day confirmed him as a historical figure: the first Latino, immigrant, and gay writer bestowed with such an honor, as well as the youngest ever, at the age of 44. In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American and his life-changing role as a public voice.

Since the presidential inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and a Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus Member; has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, the University of Rhode Island, and Colby College. His most recent book, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Memoir, is a poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir that explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. In Collaboration with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey, Blanco has also published a children’s book of his presidential inaugural poem, One Today, which was selected as the 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies and Children’s Book Council. And in 2015, the Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador. His latest project, co-created with Ruth Behar, is a blog, Bridges to/from Cuba: Lifting the Emotional Embargo, providing a cultural and artistic platform for sharing the real lives and complex emotional histories of Cubans across the globe.

Blanco continues connecting communities through the art of his occasional poetry. To help heal the emotional wounds of the Boston Marathon bombings, Richard wrote “Boston Strong,” a poem he performed at the TD Boston Garden Benefit Concert and at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. He has also 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.

Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?

Richard Blanco’s website


Richard Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet in US history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban-exiled parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of three poetry collections: Looking for the Gulf MotelDirections to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires; and two memoirs: The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey. The University of Pittsburgh Press has published the commemorative chapbooks One Today, Boston Strong, and Matters of the Sea, the last of which Blanco read at the historic reopening of the US Embassy in Havana. In 2015, the inaugural poem One Today was released as a children’s book, in collaboration with the renowned illustrator, Dav Pilkey. 

Blanco’s many awards include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. He is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, a Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus Member, and has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. In 2015, The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador. He has taught at Central Connecticut State University, Georgetown University, American University, and Wesleyan University. A builder of cities as well as poems, Blanco holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. He shares his time between Bethel, Maine and Concord, Massachusetts.

Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?

BOUNDARIES (Poetry and Photography, 2017)
Boundaries is a fine-press collaborative project between Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco and contemporary landscape photographer Jacob Bond Hessler. Blanco’s poems and Hessler’s photographs together investigate the visible and invisible boundaries of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, among many others; they challenge the physical, imagined, and psychological dividing lines—both historic and current—that shadow America and perpetuate an us vs. them mindset by inciting irrational fears, hate, and prejudice. In contrast to the Trump administra­tion’s narrow definition of an America with very clear-cut boundaries, Blanco and Hessler cross and erase borders. As artists, they tear down barriers to understanding by pushing boundaries and exposing them for what they truly are—fabrications for the sake of manifesting power and op­pression pitted against our hopes of indeed becoming a boundaryless nation in a boundaryless world.

MATTERS OF THE SEA (Chapbook, 2015)
Matters of the Sea / Cosas del mar is a commemorative bilingual chapbook that beautifully reproduces Richard Blanco’s stirring poem presented during the historic reopening ceremony of the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba on August 14, 2015.

ONE TODAY (Children’s Book, 2015)
President Barack Obama invited Richard Blanco to write a poem to share at his second presidential inauguration. That poem is One Today, a lush and lyrical, patriotic commemoration of America from dawn to dusk and from coast to coast. Brought to life here by beloved, award-winning artist Dav Pilkey, One Today is a tribute to a nation where the extraordinary happens every single day.

THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS: A MIAMI CHILDHOOD (Memoir, 2014)

“Forged form truth and grace, Blanco has crafted a deeply compelling and moving memoir about place, self and family.” —Augusten Burroughs

A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, exploring his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.” Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer and as an artist prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami, Richard Blanco’s personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and, ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American.

FOR ALL OF US, ONE TODAY (Memoir, 2013)

“Thanks to Blanco’s intelligent, open, and honest reflections, this book will make Americans’ hearts swell with pride and patriotism in the most genuine way.” —Publishers Weekly

In this brief and evocative memoir, Richard Blanco shares his life as a Latino immigrant and openly gay man discovering a new, emotional understanding of what it means to be an American. He tells the story of the call from the White House committee and all the exhilaration and upheaval of the days that followed. He reveals the inspiration and challenges behind the creation of the inaugural poem “One Today” as well as two other poems commissioned for the occasion (“Mother Country” and “What We Know of Country”), published here for the first time ever, alongside translations of all three poems into his native Spanish. Finally, Blanco reflects on his spiritual embrace of Americans everywhere through the power of poetry and his vision for its new role in our nation’s consciousness. Like the inaugural poem itself, For All of Us, One Today speaks to what makes this country and its people great, marking a triumphant moment in American history and letters.

BOSTON STRONG (Chapbook, 2013)
Boston Strong is a commemorative chapbook that beautifully reproduces Richard Blanco’s poignant poem presented May 30, 2013 at the benefit concert to help the people most affected by the bombing that occured on April 15, 2013 during the Boston Marathon.

LOOKING FOR THE GULF MOTEL (Poetry, 2012)

“Blanco’s work packs an emotional wallop, especially when he deals with the themes of place and identity.” —Poetry Quarterly

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 emotional 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 onto which we cannot hold, be it country, family, or love.

DIRECTIONS TO THE BEACH OF THE DEAD (Poetry, 2005)
In his second book of narrative, lyric poetry, Richard Blanco explores the familiar, unsettling journey for home and connections, those anxious musings about other lives. 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…yet this is a volume for all who have longed for enveloping arms and words, and for that sanctuary called home. 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.

CITY OF A HUNDRED FIRES (Poetry, 1998)
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.

Read Blanco’s tribute to the shootings in Orlando ‘One Pulse  One Poem’ Miami Herald

THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS (Excerpt from Memoir)

San Giving Day

“What’s that?” Papá asked when Abuela set the pumpkin pie on the table. “I don’t know…” Abuela shrugged and looked to me for an answer. “Pumpkin pie,” I said proudly to blank faces at the table. “Calabaza,” I translated after realizing I might as well have said supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. “¿Calabaza?” tía Mirta shouted incredulously. “Pero that’s for eating when you have ulcers and diarrhea, not a dessert. Cómo inventan los americanos,” she chuckled sarcastically. I wanted to smash the pie in her face, but instead I brought the box from the kitchen to show her it was a legitimate dessert. “Poom-quin pee-eh?” tío Regino read out loud, and the entire table burst out laughing. I hadn’t realized that pie is exactly how foot is spelled in Spanish. A calabaza foot—that’s what was for dessert. Not what I had in mind. “Qué va, there must be something else, no?” tío Regino petitioned, and tía Ofelia pranced in showing off her flan and set it on the table. Everyone began oohing and aahing. A creamy custard floating in a pool of caramelized sugar or an ulcer-curing pie? It was no competition.
Read more…

ONE TODAY
2013 Inauguration Poem

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem for us today.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of our farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables. Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello| shalom |
buon giorno |howdy |namaste |or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always, always
home, always under one sky, our sky. And always
one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars. Hope—a new constellation waiting
for us to map it, waiting for us to name it—together.


Read What’s In Print

Richard Blanco pens a new poem for America — Split this Rock

• Review of One Today children’s book — Publishers Weekly

• Teaching the One Today children’s book — The Classroom Bookshelf

Richard Blanco Named Educational Ambassador for Poets Academy — New York Times

Richard Blanco visits Cuba amid warming with US — Yahoo News

Richard Blanco’s article on Cuba “There, The Sugar Was Sweeter” — Conde Nast Traveler

• An American Dream, a Cuban Soul: Richard Blanco Finds Home — NPR blog

Dav Pilkey to Illustrate “One Today” as Children’s Book — Publishers Weekly

• Major Jackson Reviews The Prince of Los Cocuyos — LA Review of Books

Review of The Prince of Los Cocuyos — Huffington Post

• Interview about The Prince of Los Cocuyos — Miami Herald

Interview: “Gay Latino Survival Kit” — The Daily Beast

• Interview on Immigration and Place in his Memoir — Miami Herald 

Creating a Mental Space through Poetry — CBS Sunday Morning

• “Building in Verse” Interview — Guernica Magazine

• Blanco on the Music of his Miami Childhood — Vogue

About the Freedom to Marry Video “Until We Could” — The Daily Beast

Review of The Prince of Los Cocuyos — Publishers Weekly

• Interview with The Academy of American Poets

• Article about the Inaugural Poem — The Washington Post

• Interview: One Year After the Inauguration — LA Review of Books

Listen to Audio

Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco — Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Richard Blanco on The Prince of Los Cocuyos — NPR’s Radio Times

Richard Blanco on For All of Us, One Today — The Diane Rehm Show

• Blanco Reflects on Normalized Cuba-US Relations — Radio Boston

Blanco Reads “Looking For The Gulf Motel”

Poet Richard Blanco On “Dreaming American” — Boston Public Radio

Blanco on Figuring Out His Identity and Place in America — The Leonard Lopate Show

• Inaugural Poet Recalls A Closeted Childhood Of Cultural Tension — NPR

Interview with Richard Blanco — Library of Congress

• On Becoming the Inaugural Poet — NPR

Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco — The Leonard Lopate Show