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.