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photo of Richard Blanco
Photo © Nico Tucci

Richard Blanco

2007 Fellow in Literature (Poetry)

Miami-Dade County, Florida

Biography

Richard Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States-meaning his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born. Only forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more and eventually settled in Miami where he was raised and educated.

His acclaimed first book, City of a Hundred Fires, explores the yearnings and negotiation of cultural identity as a Cuban-American, and received the prestigious Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press (1998). His second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005) won the 2006 PEN / American Beyond Margins Award for its continued exploration of the universal themes of home and place. Blanco's poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly, Best American Poetry 2000, Best American Prose Poems, and National Public Radio. He is recipient of a Bread Loaf Fellowship and a Florida Artist Fellowship.

A former Assistant Professor, Blanco has taught at Georgetown, American University, and Connecticut State University. Currently, he is a board member and Vice-President of The Macondo Foundation, an association of writers founded by Sandra Cisneros united in their creative advancement and service to community. A builder of cities and poems, Blanco earned both a bachelors of science degree in Civil Engineering and a Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing (1997). He currently lives in Miami where he writes and works as a consultant engineer.

Work Samples

We're Not Going to Malta

because the winds are too strong, our Captain announces, his voice like an oracle coming through the loudspeakers of every lounge and hall, as if the ship itself were speaking. We're not going to Malta-an enchanting island country fifty miles from Sicily, according to the brochure of the tour we're not taking. But what if we did go to Malta? What if, as we are escorted on foot through the walled "Silent City" of Mdina, the walls begin speaking to me; and after we stop a few minutes to admire the impressive architecture, I feel Malta could be the place for me. What if, as we stroll the bastions to admire the panoramic harbor and stunning countryside, I dream of buying a little Maltese farm, raising Maltese horses in the green Maltese hills. What if, after we see the cathedral in Mosta saved by a miracle, I believe that Malta itself is a miracle; and before I'm transported back to the pier with a complimentary beverage, I'm struck with Malta fever, discover I am very Maltese indeed, and decide I must return to Malta, learn to speak Maltese with an English (or Spanish) accent, work as a Maltese professor of English at the University of Malta, and teach a course on The Maltese Falcon. Or, what if, when we stop at a factory to shop for famous Malteseware, I discover that making Maltese crosses is my true passion. Yes, I'd get a Maltese cat and a Maltese dog, make Maltese friends, drink Malted milk, join the Knights of Malta, and be happy for the rest of my Maltesian life. But we're not going to Malta. Malta is drifting past us, or we are drifting past it-an amorphous hump of green and brown bobbing in the portholes with the horizon as the ship heaves over whitecaps wisping into rainbows for a moment, then dissolving back into the sea.

from "Directions to The Beach of the Dead", University of Arizona Press,
© 2005 by Richard Blanco

Winter of the Volcanoes: Guatemala

Because rain clouds shade the valley all summer,
they call this their winter, and I'm here, witness
to the rains of August, surrounded by volcanoes.
Volcanoes everywhere, like cathedrals at the end
of every stretch of cobblestone I wobble through.
Volcanoes, triangulating the view in every window,
reading over my shoulders on the terrace at night,
funneling stars between their peaks, threatening
to grumble and leave la Antigua to rise a third time
out of ruin. Volcanoes, keeping watch like a council
of four unforgiving gods: Acatenango, Fuego, Agua,
and Pacaya-the one I climbed, step by step through
rows of corn groomed like manes by Mayan hands,
through the quilt work of terrace farmers' patches,
through clouds veiling through pinewood forests,
until I walked in pumice fields, barren as the moon,
if the moon were black, spelled out my name with
freshly minted stones I laid down to claim I was here
on this newly kilned rock that in a few eons will be
the soil of the valley, the earth I savor in my coffee,
the dust settling over window sills and counter tops.
I scaled the peak, reached the crater's lip, stood silent
over the cauldron of molten, blood-orange petals,
the pearlescent fire, an open wound weeping smoke,
terrified I might fall, terrified that, for a moment,
I'd let myself be seduced by the pure, living heart
of the raw earth, saying: here, let me take you back.

from "Directions to The Beach of the Dead", University of Arizona Press,
© 2005 by Richard Blanco