his feature of translated Cuban literature is the result of a necessarily delicate and fragile set of accidents, wills, wishes, and devotions. The texts assembled here are not comprehensively representative of contemporary Cuban literature but rather an idiosyncratic selection of texts submitted through a network of Cuban writers and their translators. NER editors invited me—as a translator of Cuban literature myself—to spread the word and collaborate, after their initial selection. The authors here range from well-established, to up-and-coming, to relatively unknown, and their translators have a similar range among them. You will find hyper-real, speculative, socio-politically explicit, photographically existential, and experimental forms. The works are grounded in Cuban oral and literary cultures and in dialogue with contemporary hemispheric and global currents. You will find work by women and men who are Black, white, and multiracial. Some works may seem deceptively accessible while others are more deliberately difficult or hermetic.
The complex legacy of José Lezama Lima receives direct and indirect references in several of these works, going on to take center stage in the concluding essay by Norge Espinosa Mendoza about the recent documentary film based on Lezama’s letters to his sister. The essay illuminates the political marginalization imposed on this highly influential writer by the revolutionary Cuban government. This retelling of Lezama’s marginalization implicitly sheds light on a trajectory of conflicts between artists and the state since the 1959 revolution that extends into the present. The works featured here do not directly comment on current conflicts, but they provide a variety of aesthetic responses to contemporary Cuba through which one might consider recent cultural and political confrontations.
Lorenzo García Vega, who was mentored by Lezama Lima but whose style would go on to deviate significantly from his, also continues to be an influential muse for contemporary Cuban writers. As a writer who spent much of his life living outside of Cuba, he is also an important reference for this feature, whose authors may be found in Havana, Granma province, or Camagüey, but also in Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Mexico City, and elsewhere. García Vega, along with José Kozer and more recently Reina María Rodriguez and Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, have managed to be highly influential Cuban writers while living in Miami, the putative capital of “Northern” Cuba. García Vega disparagingly nicknamed Miami “Playa Albina” [Albino Beach], perhaps responding to the anti-intellectual climate and eurocentrism that predominates in Cuban Miami (I hail from there myself). Miami is not located explicitly in any of the texts of this selection, but along with García Vega’s experimental and sardonic writing, Miami lives in the background of many of these works.
Víctor Fowler Calzada, who usually lives in Havana, was in Cambridge as a research fellow at Harvard when he completed the Havana-located and melancholically existential collection of poems selected from here. Although he writes from the predominantly rural province of Granma in Cuba, Edgardo Hinginio’s melancholic poetry is nonetheless at home in tone with Fowler Calzada’s. César Pérez in turn resides in Boston. He is the author of a short story that irreverently juxtaposes the idealism of 1960s travels to Cuba by Latin American writers with the frustration of contemporary travels home by Cubans studying and living abroad. Odette Casamayor-Cisneros’s short story is emblematic of the contemporary Afro-Cuban, or antiracist activist and arts movement, but her story involves two Cubans in New York.
In her critical writing Casamayor-Cisneros has suggested that the affective disposition of much of post-Soviet Cuban literature may be considered to be made up of an “ethical weightlessness,” which I understand, in relation to the stories featured here, to be somewhere between “unbearable lightness,” to invoke the Milan Kundera title, and a levity that is post-unbearable. Her own short story, along with the rest of the poetic and fictional works in this selection, contributes in different ways to this ethos, which remains common in Cuban literature today. The irony and modulation between severity and humor that Casamayor-Cisneros uses to fictionally portray the violent terms of an interracial Cuban romance is close to the modulating tone of works by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias and Jamila Medina Ríos, whose poems in this selection address the history of empire, racial stereotyping, lesbian breakups, and gender subordination. Rodríguez Iglesias’s poem could also be considered akin to Jorge Enrique Lage’s short fiction, for they both seem to work through an un-writing—or to deconstruct rather than build meaning in their works—in the vein of García Vega’s late style. Margarita Mateo Palmer and Anna Lydia Vega Serova write an unbearable lightness of domestic Cuban life in their fiction, while in Ahmel Echevarría’s speculative short story the tone is even lighter without letting go of gravitas entirely, as his protagonist encounters an old man we may imagine as Fidel Castro himself. There is no escaping the political significance that you might see in these works. But you may be surprised to find that these texts will, at the same time, resist any political orientations that you might bring to your reading.
—Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann