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Richard Blanco, Obama's Inaugural Poet, to Speak at Northwestern

Blanco was first gay, immigrant and Latino poet to read at presidential swearing-in

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January 28, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- As the first Latino, first openly gay man, first immigrant and youngest person ever given the honor of reading at an American president’s inauguration, Richard Blanco made history last year. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the poet will discuss the role of poetry in public life when he speaks at Northwestern University.

The free and public event, “Poetry for the People,” is part of the Northwestern University Society of Presidential Fellows Speaker Series. It begins at 4 p.m. in Room 107 of Harris Hall, 1881 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus. Advance registration is requested at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/blanco. Seating is first-come, first-served.

The son of Cuban exiles who moved to Florida, Blanco earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Miami’s Florida International University and a master’s in creative writing. His career as a poet “exploded” after delivering “One Today” at President Barack Obama’s 2012 inauguration. A framed copy of the poem resides in the Oval Office.

An award-winning writer of several books of poetry, Blanco says he feels a spiritual connection with President Obama, who he believes, like him, straddles two worlds. In Blanco’s 2012 collection of poems, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” he writes of the difficulties of life as a gay man in conservative Cuban culture and of being both Cuban and American.

After reading “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration, Blanco turned to his mother and said: “Well, Mom, I think we’re finally American.”

Blanco describes himself as a creator of accessible work that is inspired by the “salt-of-the-earth community” in which he grew up. He wrote “Boston Strong” after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, a poem he performed at a benefit concert in Boston and at a Red Sox game in Fenway Park. He released a limited edition of the poem, with proceeds going to victims of the bombings.

Blanco’s lecture is sponsored by Northwestern’s Graduate School and the Society of Presidential Fellows and by the English department. Co-sponsors include the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, Center for Writing Arts, art history department, Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, Program in Comparative Literary Studies, Hispanic/Latino Student Affairs and the Latina and Latino Studies Program.

For more information about the presentation, visit http://www.tgs.northwestern.edu/news/presidential-fellows-present-richard-blanco/