Cuba Literature

Cuba Literature

The 19th century and first half of the 20th

According to Listofusnewspapers, the emergence of literary forms in Cuba in the 19th century. is connected with the beginning of the struggles for independence, when the desire for freedom and political battles fueled the work of many writers, including the poets G. de la Concepción Valdés and JM de Heredia (the latter used romantic forms to express the nostalgia for exile and their hopes for the American continent). To encourage the birth of a national literature, numerous literary and political circles were created: the most famous met in Havana at the home of the intellectual D. Delmonte, promoter of works on political and social topics such as the Cecilia Valdés novels (1839) by Cuba Villaverde, Francisco(1839) by A. Suárez Romero, Sat (1841) by G. Gómez de Avellaneda. Spokesman of the anti-slavery and freedom struggles was also J. Martí, who in his poetic production sang in a simple and direct way the human values ​​and the great social themes of his time.

At the end of the 19th century, the revolution of language and poetic forms, implemented by modernism, had the greatest exponent in J. del Casal. In the first fifty years of the 20th century. the Cuban poetic tradition was fueled on the one hand by the experience of the avant-gardes and on the other by the birth of an Afro-Cuban movement which, after the first experiments consisting mostly of imitations of local rhythms, acquired depth thanks to the work of the poet N. Guillén. To understand the picture of the lyrical trends following modernism, two anthologies are fundamental: the first, edited by JR Jiménez, appeared in 1936 (La poesía cubana) and the other collected by Cuba Vitier in 1948 (Diez poetas cubanos). Mediator between JR Jiménez, the Spanish generation of ’27 and the Cuban poetry of those years was J. Lezama Lima, a complex and innovative poet, capable of blending the most varied languages ​​and styles in his verses. His intuitions and premises were followed, albeit in different directions, in the work of E. Diego, Cuba Vitier, F. García Marruz and R. Friol, all oriented towards an intimate poetry of memory. Sensitive to a poem that was also a dramatic testimony of social life showed themselves R. Escardó, F. Jamid, H. Padilla and above all R. Fernández Retamar.

The second half of the 20th century

The narrative

In the 1950s, the figure of A. Carpentier stands out in the field of fiction, one of the leading exponents of magical realism, capable of merging the trends of the contemporary novel with the Latin American reality. Reflection on the era of Batista’s dictatorship and attention to post-revolution problems are the main directions towards which the interest of other narrators was oriented, such as G. Cabrera Infante, S. Sarduy, L. Otero and S. Feijoo. During the 1960-1970s, Cuban fiction was dominated by modules and forms dictated by post-revolutionary needs which on the one hand stifled the fantasy and magical realism vein, and on the other imposed what is called ‘the aesthetics of hard years’ (accentuation of the theme of violence, possibly with heroic implications as required by the revolutionary epic; simplification of the language, marked by the colloquial, as well as of the narrative structures).

It was only in the 1980s that a more complex representation of the world became necessary. We begin to give voice to interiority; an urban narrative is reborn against the idealized ruralism of the 1970s; we rediscover the great narrative tradition, that of Lezama Lima, Carpentier, V. Piñera, or of writers such as L. Cabrera and DM Loynaz. In the climate of renewal, new genres are imposed (police intrigue, noir, eroticism, magical realism, now tinged with the grotesque, continually appear in the narrative) and themes such as homosexuality, prostitution, youth rebellion, the female condition, dissidence and escape emerge: themes that would have been hardly tolerated in the pro-Soviet community. R. Arenas is perhaps the most famous author from a media point of view, best known for the novel El mundo alucinante (1969) and for the autobiography Antes que anochezca (posthumous, 1992; film version by J. Schnabel, Before night falls, 2000).

A clearer break with the past and a further impulse to experimentation are felt, in particular, after 1989, a watershed year also in Cuban history. In 1991 the novel El lobo, el bosque y el hombre nuevoby S. Paz marks a thematic and stylistic break with the previous narrative and opens the way to new generations of storytellers. Among the most successful novels, Prisionero del agua(1998) by A. Díaz Pimienta, Tuyo es el reino (1997) by A. Estévez. A noteworthy phenomenon is the flowering of the short form (Estévez, M. Mejides, A. Arango, A. Guerra, AJ Ponte, D. Mitrani Arenal, Á. Santiestaban, Yoss M. Encinosa Fú); the measure The concise narrative favors a certain minimalist tendency and allows rapid and penetrating forays both into the multifaceted Cuban reality and into the depths of human psychology. Among the best known writers, even abroad, L. Padura Fuentes tries his hand at the detective novel, E. del Llano, in Arena (1996), reconstructs with fine irony the current situation of a Cuba always poised between the national pride and the desire to escape. The unease of a generation that has seen the certainties of the revolution collapse also runs through the narrative and non-fiction work of established writers such as PA Fernández, who made a name for himself with the novel Los niños se despiden (1968), and L. Otero, author of the trilogy La situación (1963), En ciudademijante(1970), Árbol de la vida (1990). In the last years of the 20th century. the presence of a Cuban fiction outside of C is becoming increasingly important: alongside writers who stay abroad for study or work reasons, there are those who have chosen the path of exile, such as Z. Valdés, C Victoria, M. Montero, R. Sánchez Mejías, F. Lizárraga, R. Uría, R. Martínez, and the singular figure of Cuba García, transplanted to Los Angeles, who writes in English.


If the revolution had opened new spaces for intellectual activity, and in particular for poetry, as in the case of the group gravitating around the magazine El caimán barbudo, founded in 1966, the economic crisis of the 1970s and the ideological dogmatism that accompanied it a moment of stagnation. The ‘conversationalist’ poetry, based on colloquial tones and everyday themes, which had been the great novelty of the poetry of the 1960s, was debased and flattened on a trivial anecdotal and a coarse language; at the same time, a celebratory and official poem and a lyric poem that sang national values ​​through the exaltation of the rural landscape and the natural beauties of the island (the so-called tojosismo, named after a local bird, the tojosa). We have to wait until the 1980s to witness a new poetic explosion. R. Hernández Novás, S. Ríos, A. Fleites, M. Bobes and many others have replaced the colloquialism of the previous poem with an anxiety for communication that embraces sometimes transgressive themes and with a renewed attention to any aspect of reality and of human soul, with no more censorship and false mythologies. Neighbors in trends Á. Escobar, R. Fernández Larrea, O. Sánchez and R. Méndez contributed to the birth of a flourishing poetic season. In the 1990s, despite the constraints faced by Cuban publishing, initiatives in support of the new poets grew (prizes, magazines, workshops), and the many anthologies published in Cuba and abroad testify to the flourishing of a new generation. the musical world, as demonstrated by the work of F. Delgado and Cuba Varela or that of repentistas poets, “improvisers” of popular stanzas sung and accompanied on the guitar; among the latter, the aforementioned Díaz Pimienta and Mitrani Arenal.


In the theatrical field, from the regional and rural trends of which the work of A. Ramos was a model, we have passed to a post-revolutionary theater, sensitive to the influence of contemporary European experiences, of which the production of Piñera and J. Triana is an example. In the last years of the 20th century, with the fading of the group experience, which in Cuba had found one of its happiest expressions with the Grupo Teatro Escambray, the renewal process mainly had new authors as protagonists. The poet Escobar, the narrator Estévez and R. Montero have been successful as playwrights, among others. Both theater and fiction have had a strong increase, thanks also to the cultural promotion activity carried out by the Casa de las Américas and by the homonymous magazine

Cuba Literature

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