by Acadia Otlowski
A former CCSU professor has been selected as President Obama’s inaugural poet, joining the ranks of a select group of talented poets such as Robert Frost.
Richard Blanco is the youngest inaugural poet to be chosen thus far, who at 44 has gone to school for engineering, gone back to school for creative writing, and has taught at three different universities, CCSU being the latest.
He has also published three books, the most recent of which being Looking for the Gulf Motel, which was published in 2012.
Blanco is also the first openly gay and Latino poet to be chosen for this honor.
“His themes of searching for identity, for home, resonate powerfully across ethnic and cultural lines,” said Jill Weinburger, a retired colleague of Blanco who worked closely with him in the creative writing program. “His selection as inaugural poet strikes me as a testament to his body of work as a contemporary poet of substance and extraordinary skill, whose work speaks to and for us all.”
His colleagues in the English department of CCSU spoke highly of him, referencing his gentle nature and charming personality.
“When I think of Rich, the word that comes to mind is ‘sweet’ as in ‘what a sweet guy.’ He impressed me as a very kind, caring, thoughtful and modest person,” said Susan Gilmore, an English professor and former colleague of Blanco. “His work isn’t about his ego. He’s invested in exploring language, identity and reaching out to readers and students.”
Others reflected similar sentiments.
“He was a great colleague, friendly, positive, worked hard in the department and his students spoke very highly of him,” said Christine Doyle, a colleague of Blanco’s who worked in the office next door. “As I have said to several people in the last week or so, this is one of those cases where, when you say, ‘It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person,’ you really mean it. “
Many in the English department spoke about how Blanco’s selection as inaugural poet was a reflection on the quality of his work.
“I don’t know how this process worked for President Obama, but I would say Richard Blanco was chosen for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that he is an excellent poet,” said Gilmore.
Obama has picked inaugural poets to speak at both of his inaugurations, making him the third president to have an inaugural poet at all.
Blanco was hired at CCSU in 1999 to replace the former poet in residence, Diane Garcia.
“She was wonderful and left a big position to fill,” said Gilmore, “I remember serving on the search committee and going through the applications and coming across Rich’s materials. It was exciting, he really stood out from the start.”
Students took a liking to Blanco early on in his career at CCSU, recalls Gilmore.
“When he came for his interview at Central, we all found him instantly likeable and the demo class he guest taught with our creative writing students was wonderful. We were very fortunate to have him on the faculty here,” said Gilmore.
This positive energy continued throughout his career at CCSU.
“He was and is a world-class good person. He cared very much about his students, and was collegial and a pleasure to know. He has a fine quiet sense of humor, and of course he has a poet’s eye to see details of everything around him,” said Mary Anne Nunn, another English professor at CCSU.
Blanco will be remembered at CCSU for his personality and the quality of his poetry, the common consensus is that Blanco is more than worthy of this honor.