First-Year Summer Reading: Growing Up As A Cuban Exile In Miami

Richard Blanco writes of finding his personal path to self-acceptance through a series of life transition

Poet and teacher Richard Blanco. Photo by Sam Farzaneh via Wikimedia Commons.
Poet and teacher Richard Blanco. Photo by Sam Farzaneh via Wikimedia Commons.

DURHAM, N.C. -- A memoir by a first-generation college graduate about growing up in a family of Cuban exiles that moved to the United States in the 1970s has been selected as the Duke University Class of 2021 Common Experience summer reading book.

In “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood,” Richard Blanco writes of finding his personal path to self-acceptance through a series of life transitions, while simultaneously balancing sexual identity and family influences. The author spoke at President Obama’s second inauguration, making Blanco the nation’s youngest inaugural poet, as well as the first Latino and openly gay person to serve in that role. 

His prose is humorous and poignant, full of the colors, sounds and smells of Miami and their resonating impact on his life. In finding his own authentic, artistic self, Blanco also learns what it means to be an American.

"I am really excited about the choice of ‘The Prince of Los Cocuyos,’” said Andres Camino T’17, a  member of the selection committee from Florida, who served as a past co-chairman of the First-Year Advisory Council (FAC). “I think the first-year students will be able to have a lot of great discussions about it. Blanco is able to write about identity, family, sexuality and a slew of other themes so well.  I am sure the students will absolutely love it."

The Duke Common Experience Program is designed to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class, with the summer reading choice as a key focal point. A committee composed of students, staff and faculty selected the book after an extensive review of numerous recommendations, along with input from the larger Duke community.

"’The Prince of Los Cocuyos’ is the beautiful and poignant story of a boy navigating multiple identities,” said Colleen Scott, director of the Baldwin Scholars Program and a committee member. “I chose it to bring visibility to the strength of the Latino and Latina community at Duke."  

About 11 percent of the students in recent Duke undergraduate classes have been of Latin descent.

The committee labored over their choice, picking seven of the more than 85 recommendations, rather than the usual three. The other finalists included:

  • “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra
  • “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi  Coates
  • “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
  • “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty
  • “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin
  • “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

Some recent past summer reading selections include  “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson in 2016; “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel in 2015; and “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichi  in 2014. 

"As a committee, we look for stories that are not only compelling, but timely,” said Jordan Hale, director of New Student Programs. “This narrative will present the incoming class the opportunity to dive deeper into a topic that presently resonates across this country and the world. We also seek authors who are able to come to campus during Orientation Week, and we are extremely excited Mr. Blanco will be here to speak with the incoming class." 

A special printing of the book will be mailed this summer to members of the Duke Class of 2021.