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305’s first ever poet laureate is alumnus, professor Richard Blanco
Credit: Miami-Dade County

305’s first ever poet laureate is alumnus, professor Richard Blanco

April 8, 2022 at 12:20pm

Dynamic. Engaged. Iconic. These are a few of the words Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava used to describe Miami-Dade’s first-ever poet laureate.

The historic honor went to someone who knows Miami well. He spent his childhood here. Made the city his muse. And today, he calls it home. 

“I have dedicated much of my work to writing about my life as a Miamian through my poetry.  Miami has served as my muse and continues to inspire me,” said Richard Blanco, an FIU alumnus, associate professor of English and Miami-Dade County’s newly minted poet laureate. “That makes this great honor all the more meaningful and important to me.”

Mayor Levine Cava said poetry is a vehicle for change and helps bring the community together while speaking at the April 7 ceremony honoring Blanco. That’s why she worked with Poetry Ambassador Nicole Tallman to find someone who could help elevate poetry. 

“The idea of having a poet laureate is unique in this county,” Levine Cava said. “Our poet laureate will be dynamic, engaged, someone iconic in our community and will inspire people on a regular basis to look for the poetry within and inform themselves through the power of poetry.”

Raised in Westchester, Blanco would often ride his bike around FIU's Modesto A. Maidique Campus, when there were only three buildings. He would go on to receive two degrees from FIU. Because Blanco was good in math and science, his parents encouraged him to pursue a career in engineering, which he did, graduating in 1991. As a civil engineer, he designed bridges and an architectural plan for City Hall in South Miami.

But the creative spirit called out to Blanco. He answered. So, he came back to FIU and studied under Creative Writing Professor Campbell McGrath, earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1997. Blanco then published his first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires – a search for his cultural identity as a Cuban American.

"It is particularly fitting that Richard Blanco has been named the first poet laureate of Miami," said Ana Luszczynska, FIU associate professor of English and dean of the School of Environment, Arts and Society. "He writes with a unique sense of urgency, longing, and wisdom so familiar to the immigrant and exilic South Florida community which he continues to call home.  The College of Arts, Sciences, and Education, in which the department of English is housed, could not be more proud.”

In 2013, Blanco made history when he delivered his poem “One Today” at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration – becoming the youngest, the first immigrant, the first Latino and the first openly gay poet selected for the honor. Two years later, he made history again when he took to the steps of the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, to deliver an original poem marking the reopening of the embassy. 

Blanco’s journey has, in some ways, come full circle. In 2017, he took a position as a faculty member at the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, returning to the place he calls home — Miami. He is proud to have received this honor and looks forward to getting to work.

“As a working-class son from an exile-immigrant family, I had very little exposure to the humanities, especially poetry,” Blanco said. “As the county’s poet laureate, I hope to focus on opportunities to increase our engagement with poetry through diverse and lively programming so that our communities’ stories continue to be shared and preserved.”