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Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco to Read at Millsaps College

by Web on July 9, 2015

Richard Blanco, an inaugural poet, public speaker, teacher and memoirist, is scheduled to appear on July 20 at Millsaps College in Jackson. He will read from his memoir, The Prince of los Cocuyos, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Christian Center.

The program is free and open to the public. Lemuria Books will staff a table where Blanco will sign books.

Blanco, who was born in Madrid and grew up in Miami, read “One Today” during Barack Obama’s second inauguration, a poem that he wrote for the occasion. He was the first immigrant, Hispanic, and openly gay poet to read at an inauguration, and, at age 44, was the youngest.

The Prince of los Cocuyos covers Blanco’s life from ages seven to 17 and describes his coming of age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his effort to navigate his two imaginary worlds —the Cuba of the 1950s that his family longed for and his own idealized America.

Blanco said during a telephone interview earlier this week that he decided to write a memoir because there were so many back stories and characters he wanted to tell, but poetry wasn’t the right genre. “It’s similar to my poetry but more story-like, more funny,” he said of his memoir.

His appearance at Millsaps will mark his first visit to Mississippi, where he has a connection.

“My fourth-grade teacher from Miami, my favorite teacher from my elementary education, lives in Mississippi,” he said of the woman he described as the perfect teacher but did not name in his memoir. “I haven’t seen her since I was in grade school. We reconnected briefly because of the inauguration. I don’t know how she ended up in Mississippi.”

Blanco’s reading is in partnership with the Eudora Welty Foundation as part of the McMullan Young Writers Workshop.

Thirty high school students from across the state, who earned gold or silver keys in the Mississippi regional division of the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, were invited to attend the workshop, scheduled July 20-24 at Millsaps College. The McMullan Family Foundation is funding the workshop.

“Having Richard Blanco here to share his experience is a unique opportunity for these young writers, and reinforces the importance of writing, which is a hallmark of a Millsaps education,” said Liz Egan, coordinator of the Writing Center at Millsaps College.

Blanco, who will also speak to the McMullan Young Writers Workshop, said writing requires “work and instruction, lots of racking your brain just like with any career” and it’s a discipline that can be learned and improved upon.”

Being a poet is like being an emotional historian, he said.

“Poetry records how we feel,” he said. “It reminds us to feel. Sometimes we can go about our day without stopping to feel.”

Blanco said his best poems are centered on questions about home, belonging, identity and place, all things that have concerned him since childhood.

An engineer by profession, Blanco credits his job and the writing it required with leading him to poetry. “I started falling in love with language and thinking about it,” he said.

Blanco earned an engineering degree from Florida International University in 1991 and then a master of fine arts in creative writing from Florida International in 1997. He is the author of For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, the poetry chapbook Boston Strong that commemorates Boston Marathon bombing victims, the poetry chapbooks One Today, Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead and City of a Hundred Fires.

Poetry zeros in on emotions like no other written form, Blanco said.

“It speaks to us in ways that other genres might not,” he said. “It’s the power of recognizing our emotions and getting in touch with them that’s the magic of poetry. It makes us reach for the collective humanity in all of us.”