Richard Blanco on Beyoncé, Gloria Estefan, and Life After the Inauguration
In the meantime, there's no shortage of work to be done. Blanco quit his engineering job to focus on poetry and is working on a handful of projects: a commemorative book, another book featuring the other two poems he wrote for the inauguration (the president selected "One Today" from a sample of three), and speaking engagements like the one at the Arsht Center tomorrow night.
Friday's reading is special, and not just because it marks a homecoming for Blanco. There's a surprise "high-profile special guest" scheduled to appear, and Blanco says organizers are keeping the secret even from him.
But he does have a wish list: "Believe it or not, Gloria Estefan. You wouldn't think that would be the usual case for a poet, but there are so many connections that exist. She grew up not far from where I grew up. We're part of the same generation." And without Estefan, Blanco might never have studied poetry at FIU. "The first time I applied to the FIU creative writing program I thought, You're 22, you're unstoppable, you're indestructable, you're the center of the universe. And they rejected me," Blanco laughs. "But they did say, 'We see some potential and we'd like you to take a graduate course with the idea of reapplying next year.' And I remember I was on the Tri-Rail back then, and I remember sitting there and thinking, What if Gloria had given up? She was my inspiration of not giving up and being an artist from my same background socio-economically, culturally. In some weird way, I can't wait to tell her that in person."
Blanco plans to return again to Miami in April for the poetry festival O, Miami. And he'll keep coming back to "this crazy, wonderful, zany city," he says, because it's where he feels at home. Even after a long day of interviews, with his gravelly voice and repeated stories, the support he's received in South Florida gets Blanco a little choked up.
"I was watching all the [inauguration coverage] going on in Miami from Maine. For a poet, we have very low expectations, but I never thought it would turn into this," he says, noting all the excitement in Miami about having a local talent read his work on poetry's biggest stage. "The genuine sense of outreaching and love and human warmth that made me feel so --" he stops to collect himself. "I want to thank Miami for that. That feeling of belonging that's always been at the center of my work: Where do I belong, what's home, how does one identify that, how does one come to terms with that? I felt like I just wanted to get on a plane and run over here and give the city a big hug, and be hugged back."
Richard Blanco reads at the Arsht Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 22. Tickets are free and available at arshtcenter.org.
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