Keeping It Real


Richard Blanco started his literary career searching for home. Home was the Miami exile community where he grew up, or his birthplace in Madrid, or the America of 1970s sitcoms. Or maybe it was in the wistful dreams of Cuba.

It was a quest that persisted––and one that was answered last year, when he was named the inaugural poet for President Barack Obama’s 2013 swearing-in ceremony.

When he was chosen, Blanco—who earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Florida International University and, later, a master’s in creative writing from FIU—was hailed in the press as the first immigrant, the first Hispanic and the first “openly gay” inaugural poet.

These were all attributes that dovetailed with the inclusiveness emphasized by Obama, but they also overshadowed the brilliance of the work—a quality not often associated with commemorative “occasional” poems.

“One Today” was called “Whitmanesque” in its “sweep of the American landscape.” It also was current, alluding to the Newtown massacre in “the empty desks of 20 children marked absent today, and forever.”

William Wright, editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, described the poem as “successful, art meant to orient, to reconfirm collective identity in a time of recent tragedy.”

Jahan Ramazani, an editor of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, said, “We are often reminded at such public ceremonies of the hardship of previous generations, but Blanco found a way to make it real.”

We caught up with the man who made it real on Jan. 21, 2013. Here’s what this Miami boy, now 45 and living in Maine, had to say about life after his own 15 minutes of fame, a story he has chronicled in a memoir published this month entitled For All of Us Today—An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.