Cubanabooks founder and editor in Chief

Cubanabooks founder and editor in Chief featured in online magazine On Cuba

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Vietnamese delegation highlights develop

Vietnamese delegation highlights development of #Cuban #women

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A translator’s view: Gazing upon the audience

by Jeffrey C. Barnett

As I sit at my outdoor office with a glass of rum and smoldering cigar, I often wonder: are these long battles with words worth it? Will anyone notice that in the end I decided “sultry” was more apt than the bland word “hot”? Will my deliberate artistry go unnoticed? My question deals with this: do readers know, or care, that a translator experiences the same turmoil that the original author likely passed through as she searched for that one precise word?

books and booksLike the author we congratulate ourselves when we come up with a subtle turn of a phrase or alter the syntax to fit just right or, even better, when we devise an appropriate word play. With each page we’re mindful that the translator must cope with controlled intrusion. Yes, we intrude and even invade the original but are careful not to leave footprints behind. Translators wonder and worry about these things but then perhaps all artists spend long, lonely nights pondering a word in a poem or a color on the canvas all the while wondering if someone will notice.

The easiest way to squelch the artistic angst is to spend time with the readers, and during 2014-2015 Uva de Aragon and I were fortunate to have many opportunities to present THE MEMORY OF SILENCE to a wide range of audiences.havana

After the official book launching at the International Book Fair in Miami in November, we attended the Feria Internacional del Libro in Havana. I can’t think of another book that has ever been launched simultaneously on both sides of the Straits, especially one that has received such an equal amount of praise from both sets of readers. Later in the spring we presented readings to other commercial audiences at Books and Books in Miami and Leisure World in Silver Spring, Maryland. For the most part however our presentations were held in academic circles, including students and colleagues at Florida International University (Miami), Washington and Lee University (Lexington, Va), John Jay College and Baruch College (New York), as well as fellow translators at ALTA–the international conference for translators. And now, finishing up this week at the LASA convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I’ve started to reflect on all the great moments I’ve shared with Uva this year and how important they are for a translator.

FullSizeRenderThere’s no substitute for the personal contact afforded by a public reading. In Havana the audience laughed out loud as they fondly remembered Cachuca, a zany TV actress from the 50s. There was also tension–and yet also agreement I think–as we read a harsh passage about Castro. Their faces showed kindness, regret, understanding, all of this and more in such a short time. The reaction in Miami was no less visceral. As we read about the death of an important character, many in the audience began to visibly cry as they remembered their own relatives on the Island that had died without the chance to say good-bye. I must admit, I had wanted some type of feedback but as I heard people cry I could barely get through the passage myself. In Maryland there were warm smiles as Uva’s sister, Lucia, joined us. Together they performed an eloquent and convincing rendition of a climatic dialogue between the two twin sisters. (I also learned that evening that the original 2002 edition had been taken to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to be read by governmental personnel.) On the college campuses at FIU, W&L, and CUNY, younger readers who hadn’t lived through many of the novel’s seminal moments let us know how much they could identify with what seemingly is a world unknown to them. One let us know he had called his girlfriend abroad in the middle of the night to tell her the novel had made him think of her. Another told us how much she shared Lauri’s pain of leaving home, having done so herself recently. Every venue was another revelation about the readers and how they had connected with the text.   It’s true that THE MEMORY OF SILENCE will speak to Cubans in a singular way as well as any who have experienced exile, but I think Uva and I both learned this year just how broad its scope and appeal are.IMG_0312

So let me go back to my original question: are readers aware of the demons we battle in the translation process. I’m not sure, but I know that the laughter, tears, nods, and smiles I saw in the audience this year led me to think that they experienced that visceral connection that any artist hopes for.   In rural Virginia and New York alike, among Cubans, Cuban-Americans, or readers completely removed from the Cuban question, the tangible contact with the audience did more than fulfill my angst about “is anybody out there?” It confirmed that THE MEMORY OF SILENCE is a universal novel whose appeal, in both languages, far exceeds my late night anxieties.

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Scary Sounds at Night…

Raising the hairs on the back of your neck from Cuba

María Elena Llana, at the Casa de las Américas, Feb 2015

María Elena Llana, at the Casa de las Américas, Feb 2015

Truthfully I can’t read Maria Elena Llana’s stories before bed. The offerings in An Address in Havana/ Domicilio habanero (bilingual edition) are just a bit too spooky. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t grotesque or gruesome, not gory or Silence of the Lambs horror. But they do very much remind me that there are just too many unexplainable phenomena, and too many people that I wouldn’t trust farther than I could throw them. And I’m not what you would call a power lifter, so I’d prefer not to be reminded of what goes bump in the night EXCEPT when the sun is still shining.
Take, for instance, “At the Water’s Edge.” No spoilers, of course, but here we have a family made up of three generations of women, without a man in physical sight. That’s not to say that the grandma doesn’t bring up her daughter’s missing husband every few minutes, how he provided such a good home for her them all, how ungrateful his wife was, and how horrid she must have been to drive him away. But there is something not quite right going on, because the woman (who actually narrates the story) doesn’t seem like the type to drive anyone away. She is so timid that she doesn’t even discipline her own teenage daughter, despite how the girl talks back and acts out. And then she starts flashing back to her creepy childhood memories…

Neighborhood in Havana

Neighborhood in Havana

In another story, “The Wrought Iron Gate”, the main character goes from nervous to anxious to terrified, as he first crouches in a loaner apartment, then flees through the streets, then desperately fights sleep. Eyes always peeled for a suspicious movement, listening for the sounds that could herald his doom, he brings us into a nocturnal world of shadows that such a young man is not at all prepared for.

Not all of the tales are quite so frightening, though; some are more along the lines of weird, with just a hint of danger from unpredictable beings–be they alive or dead. Such as in “In the Family” where a family’s large gilt-framed mirror is inhabited by all their ancestors (r.i.p.), not all of whom can be trusted. Especially when one of the young women on the “living” side starts tempting fate.
A longtime journalist with several books to her name (fiction and non-fiction), Llana definitely knows how to spin a tale. Translator Barbara Riess doesn’t miss a trick, keeping the suspense sharp and the dialogue natural. An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero is a must read, especially for those of us who like a little edge to our entertainment. But if you’re like me, I wouldn’t recommend taking the book to bed, especially if you are alone… Or live in a big city… Or can’t completely trust everyone in your house, or apartment building, or neighborhood…

An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero is available at, at your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon. Maria Elena Llana will be on tour in the USA Fall 2015–contact about booking an appearance.

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Screams of Pain and Pride

Screams of Pain and Pride: The World According to GH

Georgina Herrera, on her balcony in Alamar

Georgina Herrera, on her balcony in Alamar

Georgina Herrera, or GH, as she is frequently called by her fans, is not someone that you can keep quiet. And that’s a good thing, if you ask me–and you kind of did, if you are reading my blog entry.

Born into poverty, “isolated and misunderstood” by her family (as Paula Sanmartín says), given no opportunity for education but plenty of discrimination because of the color of her skin, she has plenty to scream about. So she does. The bilingual collection of poetry Always Rebellious/ Cimarroneando, with beautiful translations by Juanamaria Cordones – Cook, gives loud and strong expression to the world according to GH.

A self-taught poet philosopher, GH contemplates the rigors of the Middle Passage of her forbears, the suffering inherent in being a black woman, and how she has broken out of her own metaphorical shackles to find a true voice that can’t be ignored. By the force of her poetry, she draws me, a white woman, in to comprehend just a little bit more what my family was spared, what I am spared on a daily basis, even though many of her verses resonate for me, as a woman from a working class home.

Still I can’t overlook my shared guilt in centuries of inequities, and I must strive to understand as much as possible my own privilege, to respect just how much a woman like GH has had to struggle maintaining the ferocity of her pride amid so much pain.

“On those ramparts
Still damp, on the walls
Which the rain and sobs from long ago
Wore down and also
Made eternal, I lay my hands.
Though my fingers, I hear
Moans, curses, swearing
From those who quietly resisted for centuries
The fangs of the whip on their flesh.” (From “The Slave Quarters”)


“The rubies
Of your favorite pendants
Are drops of blood, taken from the veins
Of Oweni and many,
Many more.” (From “Messages Arrive at the Royal Palace”)

GH shows that the pain of her history is great, but does not overshadow the suffering of today:

“Who will hand me, on loan,
His head,
His feet, his heart,
His entire body and both his arms,
This long journey of return?
And then, once
I’m in place, who
Will lend me his hands,
His handkerchiefs, all
The vessels in the world
So many old tears
Will offer me their wholesome welcome?” (“Doubt”)

As moving as is her scream of pain, her masterful shout of pride and empowerment is what truly makes this reader’s heart soar. Here I find hope for myself, inspiration to move beyond blame, to dig deep within my gut for the strength to change myself, my little corner of the world. She left home young, made it to the city of Havana, where soon her promise was nurtured, her value measured, by a few key people–like Nancy Morejón. And despite ongoing difficulties, people in high places who didn’t appreciate her blunt honesty, she flowered into a generous, compassionate and passionate woman.

“It begins with you
The unusual task (almost magic)
Of growing toward love
Like a dark, strong stem
From. Rare wheat…” (From “Last Tribute as a Little Girl”)

Her poetry gives her a way to grow spiritually, intellectually, “earning my place, defending my glory and my right.” (From “The Bright Day”) she comes to believe that her past can not be a ball and chain for ever, keeping her down. Instead, she sees:

“A risky and grand legacy.
I go for it.” (From “Turmoil”)


“Oh, you body of ancestral wood
My faith and my heart: Iya!
You are the one who gives me true life
I cry your name as if a queen, and I free myself.” (From “Iya”)

Even at 80 years old in fulsome glory and self-confidence, thus, she leaves her own legacy of self-knowledge and power, for her own children, and for all of us who can see even a shred of ourselves within her:

“The portrait of what I am
Remains fixed between my eyes.
It scares me, then later, I accept myself.
Intact in my body
Remains a time
Of distant splendor.
Where there was glory
Nothing will be defeated, and, thus,
My hands reconcile
With what they feel, when
Grateful, I touch myself.” (From “Second Time Before a Mirror”)

Always Rebellious/Cimarroneando is available at, at your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon. Georgina

Herrera will be on tour in the USA spring 2015–contact about booking an appearance.

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What does our new relationship with Cuba mean for Cuban Americans?


Achy Obejas, author of first rate fiction and non-fiction, will join Aida Bahr May 18 at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, CA.

Originally posted on Achy Obejas:

Achy Obejas moved to the U.S. over 50 years ago, never expecting the two nations to reestablish ties. Nor how she, and other émigrés, might feel about it. Read the article in Dame Magazine.

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Feminist Cuban author visits Bay Area


Thanks to Lisa Paravisini for including this great article by Bay Area Reporter’s Heather Cassell!

Originally posted on Repeating Islands:


Cuban feminist author Aida Bahr will be reading from her collection of prize-winning short stories, Ophelias/Ofelias , to Bay Area audiences at two special events.

Bahr and her translator, Dick Cluster, will host readings and discussions in Berkeley and San Francisco May 18-19.

Noted lesbian Cuban author Achy Obejas, who is in residence at Mills College, will join Bahr at one of the events.

Bahr is special guest of Sara Cooper, Ph.D., publisher of Cubanabooks Press, which publishes Bahr’s translated and bilingual books in the United States. Cubanabooks is an independent publishing house focused on bringing expertly translated Cuban women’s literature to English and Spanish audiences in the U.S.

Bahr, who Cooper said doesn’t identify her sexual orientation, was born in 1958 in Cuba. She is the author of several novels and books of short stories; screenplays for films and TV; and two books of literary criticism, according to her…

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Columbia, Missouri
April 27-30, 2016

Submission Deadline—December 15, 2015

IMG_1080AFRO-CUBAN ARTISTS: A RENAISSANCE is an international interdisciplinary conference hosted by the MU Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, which will be of interest to scholars, and students, as well as creative artists working in the African Diaspora, Cuban/Caribbean /Latin American arts, art history, history, culture, religions, ritual, performances, gender or ethnic studies.  The conference will explore various topics related to the aesthetics, socio-cultural and political antecedents, context and impact of the Afro-Cuban artists who came of age after 1959.

Three leading contemporary Afro-Cuban artists, Manuel Mendive (1944), Eduardo IMG_1078“Choco” Roca (1949), and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (1959), will be present and hold exhibitions in Columbia during the conference.  Mendive and Campos-Pons will also present performances. Documentaries by Juanamaría Cordones-Cook examining the life and work of these artists will also be screened.

Proposals for presentations of papers and visual performances are welcome on topics related, but not limited to:
·         arts and race
·         African Diaspora arts in Latin America
·         ethnicity and visual interpretation
·         aesthetics and religion
·         dialogue between the arts
·         the magic space of image, ritual, and art performance
·         institutional organization and art production
·         performance of Africanity in the visual arts
·         collaborative art production
·         art and social and political contexts

The deadline for submission is December 15, 2015. Anyone wishing to present a paper may submit a proposal online at Each presentation will be limited to 20 minutes.  The proposals will be peer reviewed. Applicants will be notified by February 10, 2016.  Approved presenters must confirm their attendance by registering for the conference no later than March 1, 2016.  The conference fee is $125.00, which includes presentation of papers, admittance to the exhibitions, performances, and film screenings. Student (full-time status) fee is $70.00.

Continue to check our website for updated information.
For content information, please contact Dr. Juanamaría Cordones-Cook, Project Director at

Thank you to Mizzou Advantage for their generous support of this conference.

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Feria del Libro en La Habana


The International Book Fair in Havana #FILH was a wild success for #Cubanabooks.

Originally posted on Habanera soy:

Publicado en El Nuevo Herald 2-24-2015

La capital cubana ha estado de fiesta. Los amantes de la cultura disfrutaron de las múltiples actividades de la Feria del Libro, que se extendieron del 12 al 22 de febrero, en la Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña y otras sedes. Se presentaron libros de una gama muy amplia de temas y autores, como Las damas de Social, de Nancy Alonso y Mirta Yáñez, y Agenda de la República, de Ciro Bianchi, para destacar solo dos que tratan del período republicano, así como lo más reciente de la ensayística, narrativa y poesía cubanas. Se ofrecieron por igual un gran número de mesas redondas, paneles y coloquios de los más diversos temas: libros electrónicos, cocina, violencia contra la mujer y relaciones internacionales, entre otros.

Especialmente los fines de semana, un gran número de habaneros acudieron con entusiasmo a la Feria. Los ómnibus…

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“Realmente creo que esta conferencia en Miami, sin amenazas ni despliegue policial, es una señal de cambio”


Interview with Yasmín Silvia Portales Machado, on her attendance at the FIU Cuban Studies Conference in Miami February 2015. This is one of the brightest young minds of Cuba today.

Originally posted on Negra cubana tenía que ser:

Publicado en OnCuba Magazine

“Realmente creo que esta conferencia en Miami, sin amenazas ni despliegue policial, es una señal de cambio”

Yasmín Silvia Portales Machado, es una cubana de 34 años —lo digo porque se que a ella no le importa—, pero tiene una sabiduría que seguro viene cultivando de otras vidas. O quizás fue su madre, mujer erudita también, quien más le influyó en poder vincular lo imposible.

Es así que esta mujer cubana se mueve entre el pensamiento marxista y el activismo feminista, haciendo escala en su heterosexualidad iconoclasta, definida por ella misma, y su identidad racial.

En su blog, uno de los más reconocidos de Cuba, y que constituye la forma más directa de su participación en los debates que en el país tienen lugar a pesar de su ciber-desconexión, declara en la presentación: “Vivir en Cuba y ser Queer ha sido elección. Mi vida es un fino equilibrio entre el ejercicio de la maternidad, el feminismo y el marxismo crítico”.

Y en ese…

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