Ditto for Minnesota! We had Richard Blanco for an event many years ago – before he moved to the Northeast – and I’ll echo Sharon that he is absolutely wonderful in person.
Maryland is interested in exploring. This fits pretty neatly into programs many humanities councils offer loosely called community conversations.
Andrea D. Lewis
Senior Program Officer
Maryland Center for the Book
108 W. Centre Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
WV thinks it sounds pretty cool
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Happy March, All!
It was an interesting experience to listen to the meeting that you all held last week! I have a thought about a couple of things (I know, I know ... "of course, you do, Sharon"...). But the main thing is I may have an idea for a unifying project and wanted to float that by you....
On Thurs night I went to an interesting program at the Edward M Kennedy Institute for the Senate, and if you don't know about this place here's the link: https://www.emkinstitute.org/
Here is its stated mission: The Edward M. Kennedy Institute brings Senator Kennedy’s vision for a dynamic hub of civic engagement to life. With educational programs, public forums, and digital exhibits, the Kennedy Institute welcomes individuals of all ages to debate the issues of the day, learn from each other, and leave empowered to make their own contributions to improving their communities and our nation.
The program focused on Presidential Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco, whose new collection of poetry is titled HOW TO LOVE A COUNTRY. I won't go into great detail about the book at this point, but enough to say that Blanco takes the civic role of poetry seriously and believes it can be the avenue to productive civil discussions about improving society. That, and he is freaking engaging and approachable and the high school kids in the audience (all students of color) ate him up. As did all of the adults (we collectively of a certain age). In other words, he bridges generations in his appeal.
So ... what I am thinking is that his idea -- and a bit of his self in selected appearances -- could be the springboard to community conversations in preparation for the 250th anniversary of this country ... not conversations that say "what do you want to fix by 2026"? But rather "how are the ways we can love this country?" Convos, emerging from poetry, that seek the good in the country and build on that good with civic action.
Partners on this project might well be the EMK Institute, the Urban Libraries Council (whose book to action model we would be adapting), the Poetry Foundation (or even the source of their funding in the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation), LOC and NEH ... the project would even engage NEA if there were interest in extending there.
I think it would be a strong cultural response to the call for convos about the approaching 250th anniversary of the Dec of Independence ... which Blanco adapts, interestingly, to start his collection, calling his a "Declaration of Interdepence." The nice thing about how to love a country as a frame, too, is that the link to environmentalism and caretaking of the land is apparent and so we add to the social ...
I spoke with Richard Blanco a bit after the program about the discipline of occasional poetry and its interplay with the political ... but in the course of our chat I asked if he had yet been approached to work on any projects leading up to 2026 and he is definitely available and -- I guess I'd say -- intrigued. I told him I would float this idea with you all to see if you think it has legs.
About Blanco ... Cuban immigrant, raised in Miami, now living in Bethel, ME, with his partner. Talks about democracy with the extended metaphor of a garden, that has to be continually seeded, watered, tended, and etc. Inclusively political and civic, I think.
If there is a general interest in exploring, I thought I'd talk to his publisher (Beacon Press here in Boston) to see if I could get copies of his book -- I think it's about to come out in paper -- to send out to all of you.
For now, links:
Love to hear what you think,
P.S. He says he was named after Richard Nixon ... "but that's another story."