Per an announcement this morning, Richard Blanco will serve as the inaugural poet at the swearing-in ceremony on Monday, January 21, a selection that’s historic on a number of levels: He will be the youngest poet, as well as the first Latino and first LGBT person, to recite a composition during the ceremony.
According to his bio, Blanco was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States.” His parents, Cuban exiles, emigrated to the country just days after Blanco’s birth in Madrid. After growing up in Miami, Blanco now lives with his partner in Bethel, Maine.
Prior to writing poetry, Blanco was a consultant engineer. Writing about abstract concepts and preparing arguments on behalf of his clients helped Blanco think about the “engineering” of language. He eventually left that job for the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University and from there it was an evolution into a life of writing full time.
Blanco’s work was quickly recognized by his peers. His first collection, City of a Hundred Fires, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Directions to The Beach of the Dead, his second book, won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award.
While the task of composing original poem may seem daunting, those who know Blanco believe he’s the perfect fit.
“I think he was chosen because his America is very similar to the president’s America,” Liz Balmaseda told The New York Times.
Through his work, Blanco explores several facets of his life: His mother’s life as an exile, his relationship with his father, the generations that came before him and the intersection of identities as a Cuban-American gay man.
“It’s trying to understand how I fit between negotiating the world, between being mainstream gay and being Cuban gay,” Blanco told The New York Times. “The challenge is how to be me in the poem, to have a voice that’s still intimate but yet can encompass a multitude of what America is.”
“I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural,” President Obama said in a statement. “His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a 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.”
He’s the fifth poet to hold this honor and joins Robert Frost and Maya Angelou who came before him.
“I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude,” Blanco said. “In many ways, this is the very ‘stuff’ of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story—America’s story, really.”
Watch him recite “Betting On America” at Bryant Park in New York City.