Richard Blanco’s mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Forty-five days later, the family immigrated once more to New York City, and eventually settled in Miami. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the negotiations of cultural identity, community, and belonging that would shape his life and continue to inform his work. As a poet, memoirist, and essayist, Blanco is a sought-after speaker who captivates audiences around the nation and the world with his dynamic storytelling and powerful readings. Advocating for diversity, LGBTQ rights, immigration, arts education, cultural exchange, and other important issues of our time, 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.
In 2013, Blanco was selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, joining the ranks of such luminary poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. He stands as the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Since 2016 he has served on the Obama Foundation’s storytelling committee. In 2022, he became Miami-Dade’s first poet laureate. A committed proponent of the civic role that poetry can fulfill in the public realm, Blanco’s work addresses sociopolitical matters that affect us collectively. He is the contributing poet to “The Village Voice,” a bi-monthly segment on Boston public radio station WGBH that discusses news topics through the lens of socially conscious poetry. In addition, he has written and performed occasional poems in support of 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 Boston Strong benefit concert following the Boston Marathon bombings. In 2017, Two Ponds Press published Boundaries, featuring Blanco’s poems paired with Jacob Hessler’s photos. Together, their work investigates the boundaries of race, gender, class, and ethnicity, among many others; and challenges the physical, imagined, and psychological dividing lines—both historic and current—that shadow the United States. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. About this collection, poet Carolyn Forché reflects: “In this timely collection, Richard Blanco masterfully embraces his role as a civic poet, confronting our nation’s riddled history in the light of conscience. At once personal and political, these lyric narratives decry injustice and proclaim our hopes.”
The Academy of American Poets chose Blanco to serve as its first Education Ambassador. He writes lesson plans for the Academy, visits students at all grade levels, and conducts workshops for educators on innovative and easy ways to teach poetry. He is also a frequent poet-in-residence at high schools across the country, offering interdisciplinary programs for both students and educators, customized to meet each school’s particular needs. As a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Florida International University, he developed courses on the intersections of poetry, community, art and current events. He has also served as artist-in-residence at Colby College, and has taught at Georgetown University, Wesleyan University, American University, and many literary centers throughout the country. Blanco is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and a Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus Member. A builder of cities as well as poems, Blanco holds degrees in civil engineering and creative writing from Florida International University. In addition, he has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Southern Maine, and Colby College.
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 the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba. Blanco’s wanderlust journeys through Europe and the Americas inspired his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005), which received the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for its explorations of place, culture, family, and love. Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012 by University of Pittsburgh Press, relates Blanco’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities. The book received the Paterson Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, a Maine Literary Award, and was translated into a Spanish bilingual edition by Valparaíso Ediciones. The University of Pittsburgh Press has published chapbooks of his occasional poems, including his presidential inaugural poem “One Today,” “Boston Strong,” and “Matters of the Sea.” “One Today” was also published as a children’s book in collaboration with the renowned illustrator, Dav Pilkey.
In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (Beacon Press, 2013), Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as presidential inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American and his life-changing role as a public voice. Blanco’s critically acclaimed memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood (Ecco Press, 2014), 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. The book won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir and a 2015 Maine Literary Award, and it has been selected for first-year reading programs at several colleges, including Duke University, FIU, and Oklahoma City University.
Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the shy boy or the openly gay man, the civil engineer or the civic-minded poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that illuminates the human spirit. His work asks 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?
“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