Hardly breathing, I reach my house. And when I open the door, I hear many keys clanging, the keys my ancestors stubbornly took with them to their exile…
Ruth Behar was born in Havana, Cuba, and grew up in New York. She is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Her honors include a MacArthur “Genius” Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Distinguished Alumna Award from Wesleyan University, and an Excellence in Education Award from the University of Michigan. Known for her writing about the search for home in our global era, her books include The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village; Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. She is the co-editor of Women Writing Culture, which has become a classic text on women’s literary contributions to anthropology.
Ruth frequently visits and writes about her native Cuba and is the author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba and Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys. She is the editor of the pioneering anthology, Bridges to Cuba, and co-editor of The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. She has written editorials about Cuba for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post. Her documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye Dear Love: A Cuban Sephardic Journey, has been shown in film festivals all over the world.
Also a creative writer, her poetry and short fiction appear in Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers; Burnt Sugar/Caña Quemada: Contemporary Cuban Poetry in English and Spanish; The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, a Bilingual Anthology; and The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. She has collaborated frequently over the last twenty years with Cuban book artist Rolando Estévez, who has designed beautiful handmade books of her poetry, among them, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé and Broken Streets of My City/Las calles rotas de mi ciudad. Moving between English and Spanish, writing in both languages and aware of her Jewish roots, she explores the convergence of cultures in ways that open new avenues for self-expression, not just for herself, but for others who find themselves “in the between,” searching for meaning in exile and diaspora and the quest for home.
We are born into a story that’s already begun by others…
Richard Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet in US history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban-exiled parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey; the poetry chapbooks One Today and Boston Strong; and the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires. Currently, he is collaborating with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey on a children’s book of his poem One Today.
Blanco’s many awards include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Thom Gunn Award. A builder of cities as well as poems, Blanco holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an M.F.A in Creative Writing. He has received numerous honors for his writings and performances, including honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island, and has been named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. He has taught at Central Connecticut State University, Georgetown University, and American University. Blanco splits his time between Bethel, Maine and Boston, Mass.
Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?