Richard Blanco: First Latino, Gay Man Selected as Inaugural Poet

The Cuban-American will read an original poem at President Obama's inauguration.

ByABC News
January 9, 2013, 10:35 AM

Jan 9, 2013— -- There has not been another inaugural poet like Richard Blanco.

Out of the five people selected to read an original poem at a presidential inauguration, the 44-year-old Blanco will be the first Latino, first gay man, and youngest person to serve the role. The presidential inaugural committee officially announced the choice of Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles, on Wednesday.

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"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," he said in an interview with NPR.

Renowned poets such as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou has previously served the role. In the next 11 days, Blanco will write an original poem and recite it at the public inauguration ceremony on Monday, Jan. 21.

"It is an honor to have Richard Blanco in our second inauguration," Obama said in a statement. "His contributions to the fields of poetry and art have paved the way for future generations of writers. Richard's work is well-suited for an opening that will celebrate the strength and diversity of our great country."

Blanco, who now lives in Maine, has a unique personal story. He was born in Spain to Cuban exiles, and his family quickly afterward moved to New York City before settling in Miami.

His official biography puts it more artfully: "Richard Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States."

Blanco worked as a civil engineer before discovering poetry. He a deeply personal writing style delves into his own identity and culture, which his friends say has a wide appeal to all people.

"I think he was chosen because his America is very similar to the president's America," Liz Balmaseda, a friend of Blanco's, told the New York Times. "You don't have to be an exile, you don't have to be Latino or gay to get the yearning in Richard's poetry."

Blanco says he feels a personal connection to the president.

"Since the beginning of the campaign, I totally related to his life story and the way he speaks of his family, and of course his multicultural background," Blanco told the Times. "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."

The choice of Blanco also comes after an election where Latino voters helped propel Obama to victory. Over seven in 10 Latino voters nationwide backed Obama and Latinos comprised over 10 percent of the electorate for the first time ever, according to exit polling. Traditionally a conservative bloc, almost half of Cuban-American voters in Florida voted for Obama, according to a pre-election poll conducted by Bendixen and Amandi, representing a historic political shift.

Blanco is the author of three books of poetry and had won multiple awards for his work, including the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for his first book "City of a Hundred Fires," according to the Times.