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.

Posted in Cuba, Cuban literature, Cuban women, Cuban women poets, Cubanabooks publications, Feminism, Latin American Literature, Mujeres cubanas, Women writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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!

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.

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.


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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Contretemps in Cuba, or The Saga of the Books

Wednesday, February 11, 2015. When a plane touches down at José Martí National Airport (or to anywhere else from the island), the inevitable but always spontaneous applause and glad shouts make me wonder about their motivation. Are travelers truly that delighted that they have returned home–meaning the place where they actually live, or in many cases the place from whence they emigrated years ago? Or perhaps the vacationers are so thrilled to get their Cuba on (or get their Cuba off and their shopping on) that they can’t contain themselves? Or maybe it is just that people are so relieved that nothing failed or broke or was mired in red tape, and therefore we made it in one piece to where we were supposed to go.IMG_0826

For anyone experienced with the Cuban way of life, the fact that something works like it should–and in good time–actually is nothing short of miraculous. So there I was, clapping and shouting with the best of them, ready to step off the plane into tropical climes with an enormous suitcase full of books for the International Book Fair (and two other suitcases full of gifts). The rolling staircase arrived! We deplaned with no problems! I made it through immigration in record time! As I stepped into baggage claim, the conveyor belt started turning, and luggage began to tumble out of the hatch! Several employees were present to help facilitate retrieval for those who needed assistance. February 11, a day before any of my Fair obligations, and life was rolling along smoothly.

Then everything goes to hell in a hand basket.

Suddenly the moving belt is no longer moving. Gears shift, literally and figuratively. For some reason unknown to mere mortals, the baggage department stops loading parcels and suitcases from our flight and instead starts delivering the belongings of passengers from the other flight just in from Miami–half an hour AFTER our own. By this time, two plane loads of people are milling around, shoving their way toward the circling rubber belt, and we find out what the employees REALLY are there for–to run interference for the many of us who began to panic, rage, or despair (as per our personalities) when our luggage continued to be absent. They scurry from one end of the room to another, conferring with counterparts out on the floor and back within the bowels of the operations department. They run back to assuage, promise, calm, and then off again to search for the hundreds of missing suitcases and over-sized, shrink-wrapped boxes. Yes, hundreds. From two flights. And who thinks that Cuba is ready for the embargo to be lifted so that 3 million US tourists per year can make this their new favorite destination?

Over two hours after passing through passport control, my shiny red polymer cases come into view–and I see them myself (no need for the porters/pr officers). Home free? Not hardly.IMG_0824

In Cuba, one has to then have one’s luggage weighed, in order to pay the proper import taxes–100% of the value of import. This in itself is a long line. Unfortunately, since my books were for the Fair, I have to wait for “special treatment.” As per the emailed instructions I received from Lachy and Yailán at the Book Fair International Relations office (print copy in my now damp and dingy hands), I would leave the books with Customs, and Fair functionaries would liberate them and pay the taxes in Cuban pesos–a substantial savings. But it seems as if this was an entirely unprecedented protocol, as one official after another glares at me suspiciously, telling me to wait. After another hour of waiting, the novelist laureate Mirta Yáñez intervenes personally, and I am relegated to a friendly Customs official, who asked for my story again. He is ready to help! He wants to help! He loves Mirta Yáñez! So he brings over a colleague, and together they take every book out of my luggage, in order to record, by hand, in pen on the proper form: every single title, author, ISBN, value, and quantity. Several signatures are garnered. I am able to leave, sans books, but with official paperwork for the Fair IR office.

I am exhausted and somewhat frustrated, but hopeful that all will proceed as predicted. After all, this was an annual international event, so they had to know what they were doing, right?

Oh, how naive I am.

Front cover of Damas de SocialThursday, February 12. Mirta Yáñez and Nancy Alonso launch the beautiful Damas de Social, a meticulously researched tome about the contributions of female intellectuals in the 1910’s and 1920’s. Then after 5 pm we have to go to La Cabaña, the principal grounds for the Book Fair, to make the rounds and talk to the 5 people necessary (in 5 offices across the fair grounds of course) to arrange for the books to be picked up from the airport customs the next day and then be stored  temporarily in the Fair warehouse. They tell me very sincerely that without a doubt the books will be available tomorrow. And then I will have to return to the Fair the next day in order to go to one office so that a protocol officer can accompany me to the room where our Sunday and Monday presentations are, so that she can say whether she will arrange for the books to be delivered from somewhere (our car or the Book Institute office) to the presentation room, And I personally will have to go to the warehouse to pick up the books, because god forbid they stay in the warehouse one more day to save us a trip into town. Sigh.

Friday, February 13. No books. The Cargo Administrator (who had left for the day) has failed to do what he promised me to my face on Thursday that he would do bright and early Friday morning, which was to take the paperwork from the airport to get the books. This was the agreed-upon plan, because our scheduled BOOK LAUNCHES AND SIGNINGS were to be on that very Sunday and Monday.

Photo of author Uva de Aragón and translator Jeffrey C. Barnett

Author Uva de Aragón and translator Jeffrey C. Barnett at the 2015 book fair in Havana

However, he then after the fact decided that he would wait to get the other paperwork filled out for the books that translator Jeffrey C. Barnett had brought–paperwork which since Thursday morning had been languishing in an office in Havana. By the end of Friday they have found the paperwork, but no more trips out to the airport are planned. Weekend trips to the airport are not planned. It appears that we have not followed the correct protocol, which would have been to arrive and turn in paperwork at least four days before needing the books. We should call the Cargo Administrator personally to see if anything can be arranged.

Saturday, February 14.

We make many calls. I am told to come back and again present myself in the office of International Relations for the Fair, at the Fortaleza del Morro de la Cabaña. Again I am sent haring all over the fairgrounds, again accompanied by Lachy–a very sweet and handsome young man, the IR Protocol officer, to try to smooth my way with all the other functionaries with the Fair Customs office, the Exposition Room supervisor, the Cargo Administrator, and so on. However, evidently the Fair Customs office doesn’t have anyone working on Saturday or Sunday.

Nevertheless, I am assured that the IR Office is attempting to accomplish the impossible to get the books in time for the first presentation. If not that, then for the second book launching. I should arrive an hour early to check.

Sunday, February 15.

IMG_0862As I have come to expect, walking to many offices produces no books. The incredibly full and enthusiastic audience at the launching of Cubanabooks prose selections is disappointed. I am resigned. Mirta and the other authors are disgruntled.

The launch of prose selections from Cubanabooks, February 2015, Havana International Book Fair

The launch of prose selections from Cubanabooks, February 2015, Havana International Book Fair

We at least have one copy of each book that we brandish in evidence that this is no imperialist trick or plot, that truly we have bilingual editions of The Bleeding Wound/Sangra por la herida by Mirta Yáñez (trans. Sara E. Cooper), The Memory of Silence/Memoria del silencio by Uva de Aragón (trans. Jeffrey C. Barnett), and An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero by María Elena Llana (trans. Barbara Riess).

And absolutely, positively, the books will be at the Fair bright and early the next day, for the poetry panel.

Monday, February 16.

We waltz in a half hour prior to the bursting-at-the-seams session with authors Nancy Morejón and Georgina Herrera, to launch their respective books Homing Instincts/ Querencias (trans. Pamela Carmell) and Always Rebellious/ Cimarroneando (trans. Juanamaría Cordones-Cook, María Rodriguez-Alcalá, and Alexander Michael Cordones-Cook).

Nancy Morejón, Georgina Herrera, and Sara E. Cooper (from left)

Nancy Morejón, Georgina Herrera, and Sara E. Cooper (from left)

Our halfhearted inquiries are met with chagrined denials, but also with new assurances that a new person has been put in charge of the latest rescue attempt. A tall, beautiful woman with a no-nonsense air grimly affirms that she is disgusted with the inefficiency I’ve experience so far and will take matters into her own hands. Milena says I should plan to come in the next day to get our books.

Tuesday, February 17.

The first thing I heard when I drag myself out of my mosquito net-swathed, hard and lumpy single bed is Mirta telling me there is something she needed to consult with me. Which is to say, that early this morning the latest Fair functionary has called the house to let us know the next step to follow in this, our saga, of the books that we
brought into Cuba for the Book Fair and that have yet to appear.

So when the woman who professedly has made it her mission in life to get my books for me (and take that with a grain of salt) calls this morning and explains the latest glitch,  Mirta is furious, and evidently she lets Milena have an earful, which of course makes not one bit of difference. According to unimpeachable sources the books have been recovered from airport Customs and have taken up residence in the Fair Customs Office. One would think that all is taken care of, that I can swing by and pick up the books, right? (which, by the way, is a MAJOR pain in the ass, since transportation is a hot mess here, gasoline being expensive, most cars being on the verge of expiration, Mirta’s partner Nancy—who drives when driving must be done—is on a strict schedule caring for her bed-ridden mother, and two other sets of foreign friends of theirs have come for the Fair and want to take them out on top of everything)

But no, it is not a simple matter of “swinging by.” Now that both presentations have passed, evidently, Fair Customs is of the opinion that we don’t need the books any more, and so they will not give them up. The workaround is to fictionalize a second set of Book Fair presentations, which will be held at ancillary fair grounds, one of many that are in operation throughout the city, and for which we therefore have legitimate reason to get the books.

Photo of fairgrounds, with sundial

Fairgrounds at La Cabaña at el Morro

Never mind that from the very first, we have communicated the fact that the books are to be donated to various cultural and academic institutions, rather than sold at the Fair. Today’s trip to the office of International Relations will be to sign a “proforma” detailing the titles, authors, quantities, and promotional price of the books to be sold at out fictional session. In the words of my new guardian angel, she “has every hope that today I will be able to walk out of La Cabaña with the books in my hands.” I will believe that when I see it, because she has had many other fond hopes that have been dashed to the ground.

Arriving at Milena’s office, I plunk myself down and don’t move from my seat until she has finished filling out and printing the “proforma.” Toward the end of the hour she is getting nervous, checking her watch over and over, because she fears the Customs personnel will go home early. We practically fly over to their office, me trotting to keep up with her long legged stride, and heave a sigh of relief at the open door. Social niceties are preserved, and after a while the officials look through all the papers with some degree of suspicion then finally sign and affix the seal.  As we prepare to take the paperwork on to the warehouse, the officer in charge announces that he’d better go with us, to make sure that nothing goes wrong at the other end. Now we are three, walking at a much more leisurely pace.

The warehouse manager receives us, makes the requisite chit-chat with the Customs officer, then takes the papers Milena offers, and looks them over closely, frowning and occasionally glancing up with an almost hostile look. But he also must concede that everything is in order, and he does have the books. However, he says, we had better wait until “the boys” get back from lunch so they can transport them to the International Relations office (keep in mind that we are talking about a suitcase with wheels and a small box). Five of us trundle back across the Fair grounds, accompanied by the books, which still are not officially released.

Yailán, Lachy, and Milena, of the International Relations office

Yailán, Lachy, and Milena, of the International Relations office

At the other end, you guessed it–the Customs official must take out every book and check it off the list. He then solemnly hands Milena her copies of the paperwork and announces that we have completed the entire transaction. The fiction has worked! We feel like heroes, returned from a quest for the Holy Grail!

Let there be books!

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“It always hurts me so much when I take

“It always hurts me so much when I take him to school and I see him pledging allegiance to the #American flag.” #CUBA #thememoryofsilence

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Eight U.S. planes were downed, a record

Eight U.S. planes were downed, a record number for a single day. #vietnamwar #history #newbooks #memoryofsilence

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