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And 2013’s Inaugural Poet Is…Richard Blanco

By Harriet Staff


The New York Times announced last night that Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco is to be President Obama’s 2013 inaugural poet. “Now Mr. Obama is about to pluck Mr. Blanco out of the relatively obscure and quiet world of poetry and put him on display before the entire world,” they write. More:

On Wednesday the president’s inaugural planners will announce that Mr. Blanco is to be the 2013 inaugural poet, joining the ranks of notables like Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

“Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to [Obama’s] life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background,” Mr. Blanco said in a telephone interview from the rural village of Bethel, Me., where he lives with his partner. “There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him.”

Mr. Blanco must now compose an original poem for the president’s ceremonial swearing-in on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 21. (Mr. Obama will take the official oath at the White House on Jan. 20, as required by the Constitution.) Addie Whisenant, the inaugural committee’s spokeswoman, said 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.”

Friends of Mr. Blanco’s, and fellow poets, say the president could not have found a more perfect fit.

“I think he was chosen because his America is very similar to the president’s America,” said Liz Balmaseda, who met Mr. Blanco in the mid-1990s when he was just emerging as a poet, and she was working as a columnist for The Miami Herald. “You don’t have to be an exile, you don’t have to be Latino or gay to get the yearning in Richard’s poetry.”

Mr. Blanco, 44, was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain and raised and educated in Miami, where his mother was a bank teller, his father a bookkeeper, and his grandmother — “abuela” in his poems — was a looming, powerful presence. Family folklore has it that he was named for Richard M. Nixon, his father’s favorite president, who took a strong stand against Fidel Castro.


Mr. Blanco decided to pursue a master’s degree in fine arts and creative writing, taking courses at night at Florida International University, where he had earned his engineering degree. His mentor there, Campbell McGrath (who also happens to be a childhood friend of Elizabeth Alexander, Mr. Obama’s first inaugural poet), said Mr. Blanco’s facility with numbers and structural design shines through in his writing.

Read the full feature here.

Richard Blanco is the author of City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) and Directions to The Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005). We’re also fond of Blanco’s interview with Poetry Society of America as part of their Poets on Politics series. Much congrats! We look forward to the inaugural poem!

Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.