Alumni Spotlight

Richard Blanco reflects on what it means to belong

–By Emily Castellanos for FIU News

Associate professor of English and FIU alumnus Richard Blanco was in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma at an art camp for high schoolers when he heard about the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Although he was thousands of miles away, the news hit close to home. The nation’s first openly gay inaugural poet, Blanco felt an unshakeable urgency to write — to process everything he was feeling as someone who had spent time in clubs, like Pulse, where many in the LGBT community go to feel safe and supported.

“Gay clubs really are home. It’s where you first learn to be socialized as LGBTQ people,” Blanco said. “And to have that home desecrated in such a way… It really was a double tragedy for me.”

Within 24 hours of hearing about the tragedy, Blanco finished “One Pulse – One Poem” to honor the 49 victims.

This poem opened “Belonging: Reflections on Identity, Exile and Home,” a discussion with Blanco, which was organized in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride Month by FIU’s Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment.

Separated into three acts: sexuality, language and humanities as practice, Blanco recited some of his poems related to the idea of “belonging.” He also spoke about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, his Cuban roots and childhood, as well as finding his passion as a writer and poet.

“This intersectionality of all kinds of narratives that haven’t been able to have a dialog in a more unified voice are joining force,” Blanco said.

Narratives such as social justice, the Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter movements and LGBTQ+ rights are a few examples that he brought up, which are revisited in conversations today in America and across the globe.

During the Q&A, a viewer asked, “What does it mean to belong? What is belonging to you?”

“As I say to my students: Good art answers questions. Great art asks them. I don’t think I have an answer, I just have more and more questions,” Blanco said. “Belonging is multi-complex, everchanging and a moving thing. It’s precisely because of that it’s the subject of art, because there is no final answer.”

In 2017, Blanco took a position as a faculty member at the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. He will also become the first affiliated faculty member in FIU’s Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment.

Angela Nicoletti contributed to this story. 

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