Richard Blanco

By Sheridan, Patricia | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

Richard Blanco


Sheridan, Patricia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


His memoir, "Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood," recalls his life in Miami's Cuban-American, macho centric community. But 46-year-old Richard Blanco became known to a wider audience when he became the youngest person to read the inaugural poem at President Obama's second swearing in. He was also the first openly gay person, immigrant and t Latino to have that honor. His parents were Cuban exiles who were living in Spain when he was born, and then they shortly thereafter moved to New York City. A civil engineer who also has a master's degree in creative writing. he has taught at Georgetown and American universities, among others. He currently lives in Maine with his partner.

How do you think opening up Cuba will impact the memories and myths the Cuban-American community have regarding the island?

It's a pretty complex question. Most people feel that no Cuban has gone back to Cuba, and the reality is there are dozens of flights a day to Havana and other parts of Cuba. It's a very small percent of the population that has never gone back and doesn't know how Cuba has changed and continued to evolve for the last 50 years. So for them it might be a little bit eye-opening [laughs] to see that Cuba doesn't really exist anymore. ... I have been [to Cuba] five times.

As a writer, do you see poetry as a kind of shorthand to the soul of things?

I have always thought in terms of impressions and emotion- centered inspiration, and I think that was a natural draw to poetry. I delight in storytelling. ... Memoir is sort of the first half of my first book [of poetry], not retold but repacked. ... You can't really storytell so much in poetry. It's hard to be humorous in a poem and pull it off. Right now I'm craving- I need to write another book of poetry.

In your memoir, there is a tension in the writing. Even though we know you are gay, you are able to re-create this waiting to say it in the telling of your story.

It is exactly how you grow up psychologically. Tension is exactly the right word. It is a constant tension and something you can't put into words or have language for, but you know from the time you are 5 years old that you are different.

I had an interesting conversation with my editor. She said, "Doesn't he know he is gay?" [meaning young Mr. Blanco]. I said, "That word does not enter the consciousness of a person who is not ready to be gay." [laughs] That is one of the things I worked really hard on in the book. I wanted teenagers or children going through the same thing or parents who might suspect their children are gay to know it is a slow psychological space that you have to walk into and be comfortable with.

Even today, it's still not easy to come out. It's a thousand little steps that give you the courage. That didn't happen until I was 25. Back then it was so terrifying, you couldn't even say it to yourself.

You get the sense in the book that you are hoping for a way out, something other than being gay.

Exactly. Even today we are reared in a straight world, unless you happen to have gay parents, which might be a wonderful memoir, too. …

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