2015 Presidential Symposium Presents Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco—the fifth and youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, as well as the first Latino, immigrant and openly gay writer to hold the honor—will be the speaker at Montgomery County Community College’s 2015 Presidential Symposium on Thursday, March 26 from 12:45-2:45 p.m. in the Science Center Theater, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell.

The program will be simulcast to the College’s South Hall Community Room, West Campus, 101 College Drive, Pottstown. Blanco will be signing books in the Science Center Theater lobby after the lecture and question and answer session. The symposium is free and open to the community, but tickets are required. For tickets, call 215-641-6518 or visit mc3.edu/PresidentialSymposium.

In preparation for his visit, MCCC hosted a poetry contest with the theme, “The Name I Want,” based upon Blanco’s poem “The Name I Wanted.” The writers of the first 25 submissions will participate in a luncheon workshop with Blanco, prior to his lecture. The five winning submissions, as judged by a panel of the College’s English faculty, will share their poems during the workshop and will have dinner with Blanco.

Born in Madrid to Cuban exiled parents, Blanco and his family immigrated to New York City while he was an infant and then moved to Miami, Fla., where he grew up in a closely knit Cuban community. In 1991, he earned his civil engineering degree from Florida International University.

In his mid-twenties, he returned to Florida International University, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in 1997. He published his first book of poetry, “City of Hundred Fires,” in 1998. The book garnered the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, and he decided to leave the engineering field to teach creative writing at the Central Connecticut State University, where he met his partner, Dr. Mark Neveu.

Thereafter, Blanco traveled extensively, moved to Guatemala and then to Washington, DC, in 2002. He published his second book, comprised of poems relating to his journeys, in 2005. The book, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” received the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center.

His next book, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” was published in 2012, after he moved to Bethel, Maine. While he was living here, he received the phone call from President Barack Obama to serve as the fifth inaugural poet, following in the footsteps of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Blanco wrote the poem, “One Today,” which he read during the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 21, 2013. In his book, “For All of Us, One Today,” published in 2013, he describes his experience as inaugural poet.

Since the inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, and received an honorary doctorate from Macalester College. He continues to connect communities to poetry through the art of occasional poetry, and to help heal the emotional pain following the Boston Marathon bombings, Blanco wrote “Boston Strong, which he read at benefit concert.

His most recent book, “The Prince of los Cocuyos,” published in September 2014, shares his story as a child of Cuban immigrants and his endeavors to understand and embrace his identity.

The annual Presidential Symposium was created as a capstone event that advances and facilitates ongoing public dialogue on diversity and inclusiveness among students, faculty, staff and community.

~ by Diane VanDyke

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