The town planning board in Bethel, Maine, isn’t the most obvious perch for a gay Latino poet from southern Florida, but Richard Blanco’s literary reputation rests on his being pulled in many directions at once. Organizers of President Obama’s second inauguration announced last week that Blanco, 44, would read a poem at the ceremony. Blanco is the Obama coalition embodied; he represents not just demographic groups but also geographic areas that came through for the incumbent in November. But the deeper affinity is between Blanco’s verse and Obama’s own prose: Both hint that the writer’s life could have taken plenty of other paths.
Blanco’s playful official bio declares that he was “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States” — which is to say, his mother left home while seven months pregnant, gave birth in Madrid, and eventually raised Blanco in Miami. According to family lore, The New York Times reported, his resolutely anti-Castro father named him for Richard Nixon. Told to choose among law, medicine, and engineering, he trained at Florida International University as an civil engineer and worked on roads and bridges.