Chautauqua presents Richard Blanco

Chautauqua Poets and Writers continues its tradition of bringing well-known writers and poets to Ashland. On Monday, March 3, Chautauqua will present poet and educator Richard Blanco at 7:30 p.m. in Ashland High School's Mountain Avenue Theatre, 201 S. Mountain Ave.

Blanco joins a distinguished list of visiting Chautauqua writers, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Li-Young Lee, Ted Kooser, Tony Hoagland and Francine Prose.

In 2013, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States — following in the footsteps of such writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

"I just got the phone call one day," Blanco said to NPR's "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross when she asked how he had been selected.

Blanco is the first immigrant, Latino, openly gay poet — and the youngest — chosen to read at an inauguration. His most recent collection of work, "Looking for the Gulf Motel," explores themes of sexuality and home.

He said he didn't know who put his name in the hat for consideration.

"I'm sure it will come to light at some point," he said. "In some ways I don't want to know. In some ways I like the mystery. I'm wondering if I'll be disappointed when I find out. I can imagine him (President Obama) sitting in the Oval Office and saying, 'Get this guy in here!' "

Blanco was born in 1968 in Madrid and immigrated with his Cuban-exiled family to Miami, where he was raised. He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's in creative writing from Florida International University. He's traveled Europe and South America extensively, and he's taught at Georgetown University and American University in Washington, D.C., The Writer's Center in Maryland and Central Connecticut State University. He resides in Maine.

After Blanco received the call from Obama's inauguration committee, he wrote "One Today," about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.

"What I find interesting about the inaugural poem is that it is almost like a subgenre," Blanco said. "It's a unique snapshot of where we are as a country at that moment."

The children killed at Sandy Hook were part of that snapshot, and it was the emotional landscape that Blanco was trying to illustrate, he said.

Blanco's books include "City of a Hundred Fires" (1998), "Directions to the Beach of the Dead" (2005), "Looking for the Gulf Motel" (2012), "One Today" (2013), "Boston Strong" (2013) and "For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey" (2013).

Tickets to Blanco's reading and discussion cost $15 and can be purchased online at or Bloomsbury Books and Bookwagon New and Used Books. Reserved seats cost $20 and are available only online at Tickets cost $12 for students and can be purchased at the high school. Call 541-482-3632 for information.

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