The seventh Babel series came to a start last week when 2013 inaugural poet Richard Blanco came to town.
Blanco visited the Queen City to speak to students and the community about his trials and transitions of becoming a writer. Blanco’s work, packed with self-questioning tales of journeys both physical and emotional, and finding one’s sense of home, rings true to many readers.
Sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Blanco held a question-and-answer session for high school students at Kleinhans Music Hall. He discussed his early life, being “made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States.” Blanco’s parents were exiled from Cuba when his mother was seven months pregnant, and the family immigrated to Miami when Blanco was only 45 days old. Blanco’s Latin roots have played a prominent role in his work, he explained to the students. Having belonged to three countries at such an early age foreshadowed his interest in exploring home and where one belongs, he said.
He also shared details of his personal inspirations, his development of his voice and how two factors of his professional life – civil engineering and poetry – complement each other. Blanco stated how important a “liberal arts approach to life” was, saying he is able to succeed at everything he loves because of his varying interests.
A theme that dominated the student question-and-answer session was his ideas about home, and the role the concept plays in his work. His obsession with belonging somewhere, and finding his niche due to his unusual upbringing lingers in his poems. Blanco discussed his difficulty identifying with Americans, and his transition to becoming the literary face of America when he was asked to write a poem for President Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Later in the evening at Kleinhans, Blanco spoke at an event for a wider audience about his role as a poet, and how his life has changed over the past year. He discussed his childhood, and how growing up as a “fat Cuban gay kid” in Miami has had an impact on his writings. Peppered with humorous anecdotes about his family life and early years, Blanco’s speech highlighted what it was like growing up as an immigrant.
Blanco shared many pieces of his works with the audiences that evening, one of the most influential being an excerpt of his memoir, a poetic autobiography describing his feelings after receiving the invitation to be the inaugural poet. The excerpt illuminated his feelings of belonging to this country, as well as the strong roots he still feels to his family and community.
To close his discussion, Blanco captivated the audience with a moving reading of “One Today.”
The Babel series will continue with author Amy Tan on Nov. 22. For more information, visit www.justbuffalo.org.
Lillian Kahris is a junior at City Honors.