In­au­gu­ral poet launches Cuba writ­ing project


Poet Richard Blanco is launch­ing a writ­ing project to lift what he calls Cuba’s “emo­tional em­bargo.”

Blanco and writer Ruth Be­har, both Cuban-Amer­i­cans, told The As­so­ci­ated Press they are launch­ing “Bridges to/ from Cuba” as a fo­rum for Cubans on and off the is­land to share their hopes for the fu­ture as the U.S. and Cuba move closer to nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions.

“For it is not sim­ply a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic em­bargo that needs to be lifted,” they write on the web­site, launched Tues­day. “But also the weight of an emo­tional em­bargo that has kept Cubans col­lec­tively hold­ing their breath for over 50 years.”

Blanco and Be­har came up with the idea as a re­sponse to what they feel is a dis­torted im­age of Cuba that has emerged in the wake of the his­toric de­tente an­nounced by pres­i­dents Barack Obama and Raul Cas­tro in De­cem­ber.

“No­tice­ably ab­sent are the real lives and com­plex emo­tional his­to­ries of thou­sands of Cuban-Amer­i­cans and Cubans across the globe,” the pair writes.

“Bridges to/from Cuba” will fea­ture sto­ries, po­ems, photo es­says and other writ­ings from po­ets, schol­ars, celebri­ties and oth­ers span­ning across gen­er­a­tions, races and geog­ra­phy. The project’s ad­vi­sory board in­cludes Pulitzer Prize win­ning play­wright Nilo Cruz, MacArthur Foun­da­tion ge­nius grant re­cip­i­ent Ed­widge Dan­ti­cat, and sev­eral other noted writ­ers, in­clud­ing San­dra Cis­neros, au- thor of “The House on Mango Street.”

“How nec­es­sary is it to have peace­mak­ers, bridge builders, who are those amphibians be­tween com­mu­ni­ties that don’t un­der­stand each other,” Cis­neros said. “There’s an in­ti­macy, re­spect in a way that per­haps no other diplo­mat could come to the sub­ject mat­ter.”

Be­har and Blanco have been friends for two decades, and each has spent their writ­ing ca­reer ex­plor­ing ques­tions of iden­tity and be­long­ing. Be­har was born in Ha­vana and grew up in New York. She was the edi­tor of “Bridges to Cuba,” an an­thol­ogy that fea­tured writ­ing by Cubans on and off the is­land. Born in Spain to par­ents who fled Cuba, Blanco be­came the na­tion’s first openly gay and Latino in­au­gu­ral poet in 2013 and has writ­ten nu­mer­ous books of po­etry and two mem­oirs. He re­cited his poem “One To­day” at Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion.

Blanco said he wants the web­site to ex­plore ques­tions that haven’t been ad­dressed about Cuban iden­tity, the im­pact of more than 50 years of di­vi­sion, and how Cubans on the is­land and in the di­as­pora can re­con­nect.

“I think what we want to do is broaden peo­ple’s minds, both Cuban-Amer­i­cans and Cubans on the is­land,” he said. “Giv­ing them things to think about: How emo­tion­ally we move for­ward, and each other’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to each other’s sto­ries and how we can merge those sto­ries.”


In this Jan. 21, 2013 file photo, poet Richard Blanco speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion for U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, left, and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, right.

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