Earlier today, South Florida native Richard Blanco read a poem he was commissioned to write for the official flag raising ceremony at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba. When he was asked about his role in this monumental event, he said :
“As with the presidential inauguration in 2013, I am once again humbled and honored to participate as a poet in another significant historic moment. 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.”
Regarding growing up in Miami: “Although technically we lived in the U.S., the Cuban community was culturally insular in Miami during the 1970s, bonded together by the trauma of exile. It seemed that practically everyone was Cuban: my teachers, my classmates, the mechanic, the bus driver. I didn’t grow up feeling different or treated as a minority. The few kids who got picked on in my grade school were the ones with freckles and funny last names like Dawson and O’Neil.”
Last month, Obama announced the historic decision to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since severing ties in 1961. The decision became effective July 20. Blanco’s poem Matters of the Sea / Cosas del Mar, was commissioned by the U.S. State Department. It will be published as a bilingual chapbook by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Blanco has published two full-length poetry collections with UPP: Looking for the Gulf Motel, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Thom Gunn Award, and Maine Literary Award; and City of a Hundred Fires, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press) won the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN/American Center.
UPP also published two chapbooks marking impactful historical events and garnering national recognition for Blanco. One Today: A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, is a commemorative presentation of the poem commissioned by Obama for his second inaugural on January, 21, 2013. Blanco became only the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history. Boston Strong is a beautiful reproduction of the poignant poem Blanco penned for “Boston Strong: An Evening of Support and Celebration,” held on May 30, 2013, to benefit those affected by the tragic Boston Marathon bombings.
Blanco, 47, was born in Madrid, Spain, and grew up in Miami, among close-knit Cuban exiles, whom he credits with instilling in him the strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that informs his writing. In addition to being a writer, Blanco is a professional civil engineer.
Matters of the Sea / Cosas del Mar will be available for preorder here:
According to Blanco, proceeds will benefit a soon-to-be-named charity working for positive change and dialog among the people of Cuba.