Poet at Obama Inauguration Makes History: LGBT, Latino, Youngest

From the presidential inauguration committee

WASHINGTON, DC - On Wednesday the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) announced that Richard Blanco will serve as the Inaugural poet at the swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21. Blanco will be the youngest-ever Inaugural poet and the first Hispanic or LGBT person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony.

"I'm honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural," President Obama said. "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."

Born in Spain to Cuban exiles, Blanco's parents emigrated to New York City days after his birth and eventually settled in Miami. Blanco began his career as a consultant engineer. Writing about abstract concepts and preparing arguments on behalf of his clients helped Blanco think about the "engineering" of language, and he left his job in 1999 for the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University until 2001. Thereafter he served as instructor at various universities throughout the country, including American and Georgetown universities, all the while maintaining his career in consulting engineer.

Blanco's career as an English-language Latino poet gained momentum when his first collection,City of a Hundred Fires, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh. Blanco's second book of poetry, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award. His third collection, Looking for The Gulf Motel, was published in 2012.

As a writer, Blanco explores the collective American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother's life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father, and the passing of a generation of relatives. His work also explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man.

"I'm beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude," Blanco said today. "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. I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry."

In addition to writing poetry, Blanco has worked to strengthen communities and support neighbors, from working with students on writing and interpreting poems throughout the country to serving as a member of his town's Planning Board in Bethel, Maine where he currently lives. His commitment reflects the ideals of the National Day of Service, and demonstrates that, as President Obama has said, we can all give back to our communities.

The first inaugural poet was Robert Frost at President Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. In 1993, at the inauguration of President Clinton, Maya Angelou became the second inaugural poet and the first to read an original poem at an inauguration. She was followed by Miller Williams in 1997 and Elizabeth Alexander in 2009.

President Obama was involved in the selection of participants in the Inaugural program, including Richard Blanco.

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