KINGSTON, RI—February 4, 2013–Poets, unlike rock stars or musicians, seldom get recognition from large audiences when they recite their poetry. But that changed for Richard Blanco last month. When he read his poem, One Today, at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, he gained instant fame.
Blanco had already built a following at the University of Rhode Island from two earlier visits. Last year he led a series of intensive, three-day poetry workshops at the University’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. He will return to the University’s Kingston campus June 21 to deliver a keynote address and participate in other activities during URI’s 2013 writing conference, which runs from June 20 to June 22. His address at 4:30 p.m., will be free and open to the public. For updates on the conference go to www.uri.edu/summerwriting/2013
President Obama selected Blanco because “his deeply personal poems are rooted in the idea of what it means to be an American,” inaugural committee’s spokeswoman Addie Whisenant told The New York Times.
Peter Covino, associated professor of English and creative writing at URI, directs the writing conference. Covino is also a poet and author of three poetry collections including his most recent book, The Right Place to Jump, which was recently featured on NPR and the Huffington Post.
“Richard Blanco is one of the kindest, most compassionate, and thoughtful people I’ve ever met,” said Covino who was interviewed about Blanco and his work by President’s Obama’s Press Office and The New York TImes. “He’s also a careful and attentive listener. We’ve invited him twice, once as a featured guest as part of our summer writing conference and another time to present for the English Department’s Read/Write Guest Writer and Scholars Series. Everyone who has met Richard in these settings has raved about his dedication, his reading and his presentations.”
As the fifth inaugural poet in this nation’s history, Blanco joins the literary ranks of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. At 44, he is the youngest poet, the first Latino, and the first openly gay poet.
He was born in Spain to Cuban parents who fled the Castro regime. Forty-five days later, his parents emigrated once more and settled in Miami where he was raised and educated. He became a civil engineer at his family’s urging and also pursued poetry. His work explores the universal themes of yearnings and negotiation of cultural identity.
His inaugural poem, One Today, pays homage to the American experience. While noting the vast differences of American work, landscape, language, and cultures, he sees the country as the United States. One sun rose on us today…
In an essay he wrote for CNN days before the inaugural, Blanco said, in part: The most powerful quality of our country is that each day is full of a million possibilities: We are a country of fierce individualism, which invites me to shape my life as I see fit. As I reflect on this, I see how the American story is in many ways my story — a country still trying to negotiate its own identity, caught between the paradise of its founding ideals and the realities of its history, trying to figure it out, trying to “become” even today — the word “hope” as fresh on our tongues as it ever was. Regardless of my cultural, socioeconomic background and my sexuality, I have been given a place at the table, or more precisely, at the podium, because that is America.