FIU Was Literary Launchpad For Obama Poet Pick, Cuban-American Richard Blanco

Jan 10, 2013

Poet Richard Blanco
Credit Nico Tucci

The announcement that a Miami-raised son of Cuban immigrants has been chosen as the inaugural poet for President Obama's swearing-in ceremony is causing a stir throughout South Florida.  And nowhere more than in our region's literary community.

In 1993, a young civil engineer named Richard Blanco wanted to try his hand at writing poetry.  So he took a class at Florida International University, led by English Professor Campbell McGrath.

“The very first assignment I gave the kids was to write a poem about America,” McGrath says.  “That poem that Richard wrote, which is called ‘America,’ is the very first poem in his very first book.”

Now, nearly 20 years and three books of poetry later, Blanco, 44, has been selected as the official poet for President Obama's inauguration on Jan. 21.

Blanco's reading will mark a number of firsts -- he will be the first Hispanic, first gay and youngest-ever inaugural poet since the tradition began in 1961.

During an interview for NPR's Morning Edition, Blanco said he was stunned that he was chosen.

"Just thinking about my parents and my grandparents and all the struggles that they've been through,”  Blanco says.  “And how here I am first-generation Cuban American and this great honor that has just come to me and just feeling that sense of incredible gratitude and love."

President Obama's second swearing in ceremony, which falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is expected to draw an estimated 600,000 people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.