More about the book

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.

City of a Hundred Fires takes it’s title from a literal translation of “Cienfuegos,” the city on the southern coast of Cuba where my parents and family are from. I always describe this book as a cultural coming of age “story,” tracing the cultural yearnings and negotiation of growing up Cuban American. The collection is divided into two parts, which I like to think of as “BC” (meaning before Cuba) and “AC” (meaning after Cuba). The “BC” poems are centered around my childhood and young adult life in Miami and the growth of my awareness and identity with my Cuban heritage and history. The “AC” poems chronicle my travels to Cuba seeking and (re)claiming my mythic homeland, where I encountered for the first time the landscapes, places, and family that since my birth were merely hand-me-down stories and black-and-white photos.

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Reviews

Richard Blanco's City of a Hundred Fires lights up the American literary scene with a fresh new vigor and voice that takes its place at the front rank of poetry… entrancing a wide audience with the music of its language, its beautiful evocation of loss, love and hope.—Dan Wakefield, American novelist, journalist and screenwriter

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. They emotion me.—Sandra Cisneros, American novelist

City of a Hundred Fires is one of the most exciting first books of the decade--vibrant and diverse, infused with energy and formal dexterity, equally at ease in Spanish and English…a testimony to the dualities of identity central not only to Cuban but to all "hyphenated Americans" -- exile and citizen, emigrant and immigrant, elegist and celebrant. Richard Blanco is a poet of remarkable talents -- in any language.—Campbell McGrath, American poet

In a keenly impressive debut, Blanco, a Cuban raised in the United States, records his threefold burdens: learning and adapting to American culture, translating for family and friends, and maintaining his own roots. These tensions are punctuated by the number of untranslated Spanish words speckled throughout. Blanco is already a mature, seasoned writer, and his powers of description and determination to get every nuance correct are evident from the first poem. Throughout the first half of the book, Blanco describes the culture of cafe and loss: 'this place I call home.' Then, in a delicate stroke, the poems in Part 2 gently switch cultures--from Cubans in the United States to the traveler in Cuba. This collection was awarded the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize; one hopes it will be the start of many such prizes and honors. Absolutely essential for all libraries.—Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York, Library Journal

The poet's nostalgia for Cuba, a life seen through the lens of his parents' exile, here meets head on his own coming of age in a culturally and racially diverse Miami. Full of vivid and specific detail, dotted with Spanish phrases, these poems arrest the reader much as the Ancient Mariner did, transfixing the listener.—Maxine Kumin

Blanco is a fine young poet, and this poetry, the bread and wine of our language of exile, is pure delight, written with Lorca's El Duende's eyes and heart. May he continue to produce such a heavenly mix of rhythm and image--these poems are more than gems, they are the truth, not only about the Cuban-American experience, but of our collective experience in the United States, a beautiful land of gypsies.—Virgil Suarez

In this remarkable first book Richard Blanco speaks in a wise, compassionate voice that finds beauty in loss and takes bright lessons from despair. These are poems that hurt and heal.—Gustavo Perez Firmat

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