Poet Richard Blanco Chosen to Read at Obama’s Inauguration

BY Tom LeGro  January 9, 2013 at 12:15 PM EST

russo_homepage_slot_1.jpgThe Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Wednesday that Richard Blanco has been chosen to read a poem at President Obama’s inauguration swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 21. Blanco will become the first Hispanic and first gay poet to read at a presidential inauguration. At 44, he is also the youngest poet ever given that task.

“Even though it’s been a few weeks since I found out, just thinking about my parents and my grandparents and all the struggles they’ve been through, and how, you know, here I am, first-generation Cuban-American, and this great honor that has just come to me, and just feeling that sense of just incredible gratitude and love,” Blanco told NPR.

Here’s Blanco reading “Betting on America” in 2012:

“I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second inaugural,” President Obama said in a written 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.”

According to his biography at PoetryFoundation.org, “Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States — meaning his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Only forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more and eventually settled in Miami where he was raised and educated.” He now lives in Bethel, Maine.

Blanco told the New York Times: “Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to [President Obama's] life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background. There has always been a spiritual connection in that sense. I feel in some ways that when I’m writing about my family, I’m writing about him.”

Blanco is the author of “City of a Hundred Fires” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) and “Directions to The Beach of the Dead” (University of Arizona Press, 2005).

Listen to Blanco read his poem “America”:

Text of the poem is here.

Blanco will be the fifth poet to read at a swearing-in ceremony for the nation’s highest office: Robert Frost recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s in 1961; Maya Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s in 1993; Miller Williams’ “Of History and Hope” was also read for Clinton in 1997; and Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at Mr. Obama’s 2009 inauguration.