Memoir of a Miami resident with Cuban roots navigates the glory, humor, and challenges of growing up
by Susie P. Gonzalez
Incoming students at Trinity University will encounter the world of Richard Blanco, the first Latino and openly-gay presidential inaugural poet, through his book, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, the Reading TUgether selection for 2018. Blanco will speak at Trinity at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22 in Laurie Auditorium.
The presentation is free and open to the public. As part of New Student Orientation, the incoming class of 2022 will complete a short, online summer research assignment that provides an opportunity to delve more deeply into Blanco’s childhood world and are required to read the selection and attend Blanco’s lecture. Students may have the opportunity to meet him personally in smaller events.The Reading TUgether program also provides a community reading experience in which students, staff, faculty, and alumni are all encouraged to read the same book.
The Prince of Los Cocuyos is a vivid account of Blanco's coming of age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his effort to contend with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. The book evokes the complexities and glories—and humor—of navigating his two imaginary worlds: the Cuba of the 1950s that his family longed for, and his own idealized America.
Trained as an engineer at Florida International University, Blanco is the prize-winning author of three volumes of poetry, two memoirs, and several poetry chapbooks. Among the academic positions he has held are at the American University, Central Connecticut State University, and Georgetown University. He is a member of the San Antonio-based, internationally-renowned Macondo Writers Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros. In 2013, he was named the inaugural poet for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, becoming the fifth person—and the first Latino and the first openly-gay person—for that role.
Michael Soto, professor of English and associate vice president for Academic Affairs, serves on the Reading TUgether committee. He says the book was chosen to “give students a glimpse of one extraordinary person’s transition from the uncertainties of youth to the uncertainties of creative adult life” in the United States. “No matter a person’s background or future aspirations, The Prince of los Cocuyos is a gripping and poignant and hilarious consideration of who we are as individuals and who we are as a society,” he adds.
Soto also believes that The Prince of los Cocuyos provides “a thrilling model for how life writing might give us entry into a wide range of disciplines explored at Trinity, from sociology to psychology to literary and cultural studies.”
Born in Madrid to Cuban exiled parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize Blanco’s body of work. In addition to his memoir, he is the author of a series of poetry chapbooks and collections. Blanco also has written a children’s book of his inaugural poem, “One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey; and Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler. With Ruth Behar, he is co-creator of the blog Bridges to/from Cuba: Lifting the Emotional Embargo, which provides a cultural and artistic platform for sharing the real lives and complex emotional histories of thousands of Cubans across the globe.
Blanco’s honors include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, and the Paterson Poetry Prize. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Fresh Air. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow continues to write poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana.
In recent years, Reading TUgether books have included Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond; Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss; The Circle by Dave Eggers, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong by Raymond Bonner; and The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Susie P. Gonzalez, senior manager of public realtions, can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu or on Twitter @susiegonz.