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Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco Launches U.S.-Cuba Writing Project

by Emma Wilkinson /  / Updated 

Acclaimed poet Richard Blanco and writer and editor Ruth Behar have teamed up to create a writing project to respond to the new and evolving relationship between the United States and Cuba.

The Cuban American artists, who have been friends for years, told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview they hope their project “Bridges to/from Cuba” creates a channel through which Cubans and Americans can interact creatively through stories, poems and photo essays.

“"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."

In an e-mail to NBC News on Tuesday, Blanco said, "After President Obama's announcement in December and the [ensuing] media coverage, I realized there were more nuances than I had thought regarding the way I felt about the Cuba of yesteryear and the Cuba of the future," wrote Blanco. "What's more, I learned that many others were as emotionally confused as I was at first. That's when I got together with Ruth Behar. We both knew that art and storytelling is a key to sorting out these complex matters of the heart."

Blanco was chosen by President Barack Obama to write and deliver the Inaugural Poem in 2012. He was the nation's first Latino and gay inaugural poet. He is the author of several highly acclaimed poetry books and memoirs. Behar was the editor of the anthology "Bridges to Cuba," which featured Cuban and Cuban-American writers.

Blanco and Behar told the AP they see themselves as "One and a Half Generation" Cuban Americans. They grew up in the U.S. but feel very Cuban, having been raised on stories about their parents' country and familiar with its food, culture, language and music.

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Although there has been an incredible amount of political turmoil surrounding Cuba for decades, Blanco and Behar said they want their project to move beyond the political to something deeper, a creative aspect of Americans and Cubans that can bring to light their shared humanity. Despite certain obstacles like apathy and fatigue about politics and Cuba’s lack of Internet access, the artists have high hopes that this endeavor can be the first of its kind, bringing together two peoples who have long needed that bridge.

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