Richard Blanco, the youngest Latino and first openly gay poet to speak at a presidential inauguration, will come to campus today to participate in a variety of programming to kick off Family Weekend. Blanco’s visit also coincides with the end of the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance’s (BQSA) Out Week.
The visit was spearheaded by Allen Delong, director of student life and the Smith Union, with help from Leana Amaez, associate dean of multicultural student programs, and Kate Stern, director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. After discussing segmented identities as part of a larger group of faculty members, these three felt that Blanco was the perfect person to speak to the community.
“Twenty years ago, students weren’t coming to campus with such fluid identities, and now they come and say things like, in Richard Blanco’s case, ‘I’m a Mainer, I’m Latino and I’m gay, and those are all together. You don’t get to cut those up,’” said Delong.
“We knew he would be this really wonderful public speaker for Family Weekend and we knew that families would love to go see him,” he added.
These administrators hope that different types of students find a way to connect with Blanco and his poetry on a personal level. Delong said that when they pitched the idea to Blanco’s agent, they wanted him to work with students through different avenues. For example, Blanco will be holding a poetry workshop and also be meeting with members of a class reading Latino authors.
In addition, the College will host a dinner with Blanco, inviting students identifying themselves as Mainers, Latino and LGBTIQ, among others.
“Kate [Stern] has done this event called Proud of My Whole Self, about identity and expression, and really that’s what this dinner has become, it’s a version of that,” said Delong. “You get to say you can put all these different things together in a way that is specific to you.”
Amaez said she thinks it’s an amazing chance for the campus to hear how different aspects of students’ identities embodied by Blanco are getting recognized on such a large public stage.
“I’m looking forward to the community, parents, families, staff, faculty and students just being able to listen to some amazing poetry, but also to listen to how much this poet’s identity is coming into mainstream American culture,” said Amaez.
Blanco’s visit intersects with the conclusion of BQSA’s annual Out Week. According to Jasmine Bailey ’14, one of the student heads of BQSA, Out Week is about celebrating being queer and comfortable on campus, and also having allies show support.
“In the past, there’s been a lot of conversation [during Out Week] about ‘intersectionality’ and how we embrace multiple parts of our identity simultaneously so we can feel complete and whole and fully integrated into our communities and fully appreciated by our communities,” said Amaez.
Though Out Week and Blanco’s visit were not planned to overlap, all parties feel it’s a happy coincidence.
“A lot of his poems deal with different parts of his identity,” said Bailey. “I think that a lot of queer students on campus deal with intersecting identities, like, ‘Where can I be gay, where can I be black, where can I be Christian,’ for example, so I’m hoping he’ll speak about that or read some poetry about that.”
Blanco will host a book signing today from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Blue Gallery on the third floor of Smith Union. There will also be a public poetry reading from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Pickard Theater. Tickets for the reading are available free of charge for students and faculty from the Student Info Desk on the second floor of Smith Union.