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.
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, he 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), receiving the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for his 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 by 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 inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, and received an honorary doctorate from Macalester College. He continues connecting communities with poetry through the art of 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 such organizations as 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?
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