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Four Centuries of Cuban Literature

Ambiguous, as good literary works usually are, the story of the poem is like a novel itself. The original text got lost and the poem as we know it today is a copy written by young members of a group who, encouraged by literary critic Domingo del Monte, strove to create, in the mid 19th century, a genuine Cuban literary tradition.

It is said, for instance, that the character of Salvador Golomón (black hero) was added later by those same young people who opposed slavery. ‘Espejo de paciencia’ is regarded as the first milestone in the long history of Cuban literary creativity that fills us all with great pride. This is why the Cuban Institute of Literature and Linguistics and Cuba’s Book Institute (ICL), in conjunction with several other Cuban institutions, have drawn a program of activities to mark four centuries of Cuban literature, from October 20th through November 20th.

Meanwhile, some activities have already been held. The exhibit ‘Palabra y pincel’ (Written Words and Paintbrush) was inaugurated at the National Fine Arts Museum. Co-sponsored by the Havana Historian’s Office and the Ludwig Foundation, the exhibit was open to the public through July, showing its visitors the link between fine arts and literature, as well as the survival of codes shared by some authors, who explored the two art disciplines.

Paintings by Juana Borrero, Carlos Enríquez, Arístides Fernández, Marcelo Pogolotti, Samuel Feijóo, Pedro de Oráa, Julio Girona, Fayad Jamís, Adigio Benítez, Felipe Orlando, Miguel Collazo and Cleva Solís were on display along with fragments of their respective literary works, selected for their emphasis on the visual aspect to create a specific atmosphere.

This sort of dialogue between the written word and painting sheds light on hardly noticeable aspects of creativity. Reading the literary pieces while looking at the paintings, anyone could easily recognize some tensions and discrepancies between the two forms of expression. The contrast between realistic poems and abstract paintings makes us discover new paths for research, as well as new possibilities to better understand the artists’ works, some of which belong to private collections and were until now barely known to the general public.

The inauguration of the exhibit ‘Palabra y pincel’ was the latest activity held in the framework of the festivities, marking the fourth century of Cuban literature. Prior to that, there was the exhibit and awards ceremony of the poster contest, in the framework of the International Book Fair. Carlos Zamora won first prize with the image that illustrates these pages. The second prize went to Víctor Junco Pascual and Jorge Gustavo Gavilondo Peón and the third prize went to Katherine Rodríguez Paz. The jury also granted three honorable mention commendations to Giselle Monzón, Yordanis Beltrán and Arnulfo Espinosa.

The National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) sponsored a contest to select the best research projects. The winners were Roberto Méndez, Jorge Fornet, Modesto Milanés and David Leyva. The Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center, in conjunction with the Ojalá Recording Studio, will release a selection of concerts entitled ‘Del verso a la canción’ (Poetry and Songs).

The Havana Historian’s Office will unveil a commemorative plaque of the 400th anniversary of the poem by Silvestre de Balboa. The publishing houses Letras Cubanas and Ediciones Boloña will launch classic Cuban literary texts. The Institute of Literature and Linguistics will offer a new opportunity to reflect on the Cuban literary heritage during the International Colloquium ‘Four Centuries of Cuban Literature’, set for November 3rd through the 7th, with the presence of scholars and academics from some 20 nations. The publishing house Tablas-Alarcos is organizing public readings of classics of the Cuban theatre. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies will begin to circulate a commemorative postal series. The National Ballet Company will offer a gala that will include the world premiere of the ballet ‘Lucía Jerez’, inspired by the text written by Fina García Marruz, with choreography by Alicia Alonso and music by Enrique González Mantici. Several other commemorative events will also take place, including the dossiers on the occasion in publications such as La Gaceta de Cuba, Extramuros and Sic.

In closing the festivity, the public readings of Cuban classic and contemporary texts will again take over outdoor areas and parks islandwide. The already traditional activity, known here in Cuba as ´Continuidad de los parques’ – paraphrasing renowned writer Julio Cortázar— offers Cuban readers a new opportunity to enjoy the works by some of the best exponents of our literary tradition. The important thing here is to encourage reading and debate on the rich Cuban literary heritage that began with the poem ‘Espejo de paciencia’, as well as revive our admiration for this unique and varied process that has contributed so much to strengthening our national identity.


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