Cuba declared its independence from Spain on May 20, 1902. The Caribbean country has had a turbulent history – making it a rich topic for its writers.
• Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989), once the national poet of Cuba, is known for his poems about social justice that he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. The country’s winners of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, are playwright Alejo Carpentier, poet Dulce María Loynaz and novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante.
• Oscar Hijuelos, who was born in New York City to Cuban parents, became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, about two Cuban brothers who pursue their musical dreams in New York City. Hijuelos also wrote the novels Our House in the Last World and Mr. Ives’ Christmas and the memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.
• Two writers who were born in Havana and immigrated to the United States have used Cuba as a setting for their novels. Cristina García, left, showed one family’s life in Dreaming in Cuban and describes the effects of dictator Fidel Castro’s regime in the just released King of Cuba. The Castro government plays a key role in the characters’ lives of Elizabeth Huergo’s The Death of Fidel Pérez.
• California-raised children’s writer Margarita Engle draws on Cuba’s history for her free verse books, including The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda; The Surrender Tree, about a nurse who helps those while war rages in Cuba in 1896; and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano.
• Carlos Eire was airlifted from Havana during Operation Pedro Pan, a CIA operation in which thousands of Cuban children were taken to the United States in the early 1960s – an experience he wrote about in Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. His follow-up book was Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.
Other writers with Cuban roots include Meg Medina, Caridad Piñeiro and Alisa Valdes.
On May 14, 1811, Paraguay declared its independence from Spain. The South American country’s turbulent history has made it a great topic for its writers.
• Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005) won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, for his body of work about life in his country. I, the Supreme depicts the life of dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, while Son of Man covers the Chaco War. Bastos lived in exile from Paraguay for most of life. Read more about him in The Culture Trip and BBC News.
• Poet Josefina Pla (1903-1999) was born and raised in Spain, but she lived in Paraguay for much of her adult life. Another poet, Hérib Campos Cervera (1905-1953), became the leader of the “Generacion del 40” literary movement along with Bastos, Pla and others. The Spanish-language website Los Poetas features the works of Pla and Cervera.
• And check out American Lily Tuck’s novel The News from Paraguay, which shows the relationship between dictator Francisco Solano López and his Irish mistress in the 18oos. The book won the National Book Award in 2004. Tuck received such a great response from the country that she established the PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature to honor the country’s writers.
Sources: CIA Factbook, Encyclopedia Britannica, Amazon.com, The Culture Trip, BBC News, Wikipedia, Los-Poetas.com, National Book Foundation, NYCityWoman.com
The Dominican Republic declared its independence from Haiti on February 27, 1844. Part of the Carribbean, it’s the homeland of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, actress Zoe Saldana and much of Major League Baseball – and some great writers.
Julia Alvarez, who was raised as a child in the Dominican Republic, wrote about one family’s immigration from that country to the United States in How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. In the Time of Butterflies was a fictionalized depiction of the Mirabel sisters, a family who rebelled from the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. She’s also written the Tía Lola children’s series and other fiction and non-fiction books.
Junot Díaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to New Jersey as a child, drew on his heritage for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in which the main character’s family is put under a fukú. His two collections of short stories, Drown and This is How You Lose Her, show Dominican immigrants coping with life and love in the United States.
New Yorker Sofia Quintero, who is of Puerto Rican-Dominican heritage, has written a variety of books, from the chick lit Divas Don’t Yield, the Black Armetis hip hop series and the young adult novel Efrain’s Secret. She talks about her background in this 2009 article with The UBS.com, which also features other Afro-Latino writers.
Raquel Cepeda, who grew up in New York City and briefly lived in the Dominican Republic as a child, delves into the history of that country and her family in her book Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina.