Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club

Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 23, 2015

Iván García, 16 November 2015 — In the depths of the peeling, unpainted
building where the journalist and independent writer Víctor Manuel
Domínguez lives, a lady, who is waiting for customers behind a display
counter of cheap Chinese jewelry, is reading a well-used copy of a book
by Corín Tellado.

On a rusty, narrow vertigo-inducing staircase, a dirty abandoned dog
urinates hastily and without pause. Dominguez has lived in that ruinous
building, in the very heart of Havana, for thirty years.

In the living room there are more books than furniture. With some music
of Gal Costa in the background, Victor Manuel looks over dozens of
manuscripts which will compete in the Vista-Puente de Letras competition
[ed. note: for Cuban writers resident in Cuba] which it is anticipated
will in the future be divided between Havana and Miami.

The writer looks through a mountain of papers which overflow his black
briefcase, and explains: "Exactly on December 17th, when the world
received the news about the change of direction between Cuba and the
United States, in Miami the Writers' Club awarded the Gastón Baquero
prize for independent literature to the poet and free journalist Jorge
Olivera," talking without leaving off from smoking one cigarette after

"There have been changes. This invitation is also extended to writers in
exile. But the Club's work is not treading water. Last Saturday,
November 7th, we presented the Vista Puente de Letras project, a tribute
to the Puente publication, censored by the government in 1965, and to
writing as a vehicle of communication," says Victor Manuel, and he
adds: "Fidel Castro's government has always treated as anathema any
outbreak of autonomy. There are plenty of examples of intolerance of
free thought. Like the banning of Puente, the Stalinist decision of the
court against Herberto Padilla, or the suppression of María Elena Cruz
Varela's Criterio Alternativo, who was made to retract her poems in an
openly-Fascist move."

Domínguez explains that in 1996 a diminished group of independent
journalists, those who had had books published, "decided to finance a
literary project which was discredited by the government's scribes.
Typical of any totalitarian regime: they attack the person, not the
work. What with the repression and exile, the group dissolved. On May
7th 2007, Jorge Olivera and I started the Independent Writers Club. We
didn't have anywhere to arrange literary gatherings. We were like
gypsies. Some embassies and consulates, including Germany, Sweden, Czech
Republic, Norway, Poland and the US, opened their doors so we could read
poems and fragments of our writings".

But the best was still to come. "2013 was a watershed. The new migration
regulations permitted club members to travel abroad and carry out some
exploratory lobbying in different places, in order to find a publisher
who would put out our work. Before 2007 specific works by imprisoned
dissidents or writers were published. But the contact with foreign
publishers, especially Neo Club Press in Miami has been fundamental,"
emphasised Victor Emanuel.

He goes to his tiny kitchen and makes some coffee. "It was a giant leap
forward. Last year we published six books. and in 2015 we are going for
ten, and in the Vista Puente de Letras edition, coming out in Miami next
December we have planned another five works. Right now we have about 50
writers who have joined our club. Among them more than 15 have come from
official institutions or are still in them. Qualitatively the project is
in very good health and is addressing bluntly and without prejudice all
Cuba's social and political issues".

I ask him why have so many writers who belonged or belong to the UNEAC
(Writers and Artists Union of Cuba) have decided to join the project.
Victor Manuel thinks before answering.

"For various reasons. 17– D [ed. note: 17 December 2014, the date of
decision to re-establish US-Cuban relations] marked a before and after
in the national life. It was the starting pistol for many intellectuals
to have new hopes and see new possibilities. Also the state publishers
are in clear decline, since every year they publish works very
punctually. They accord more importance to committed writers and to
political tomes. Any writer's desire is to be published and they see the
Club as an open window to achieve that. Also, Cuban society is slowly
losing its fear," added Domínguez.

The dissident journalists and intellectuals consider that an important
dam has been breached. "Dividing walls have been blown up, which, as a
result of fear and control of intellectuals had prevented us crossing to
the other side of the street. The government understands the power of
the written word. Doctor Zhivago, the Gulag Archipelago or Three
Trapped Tigers have more ability to make you think than an ideological
tract. That's why they censor poets like Raúl Rivero, political
scientists like Carlos Alberto Montaner or novelists like Zoé Valdés."

From January 2016, Writers Club is thinking of publishing a magazine
every four months. The first number will be dedicated to the poet and
journalist Raúl Rivero, who lives in Madrid and who will be 70 on 23rd
November. Intellectuals and journalists who aren't gagged want to pay
homage to Rivero's life-long work. His work cannot be hidden by
distance, official censorship or exile.

For Victor Manuel, Raúl Rivero is like an incorporeal spirit. "He is
always with us in Havana". Our job is to multiply talent and give free
rein to the literary creativity of Cubans in and outside of the island".
That is what the Writers Club is trying to do.

Iván García

Translated by GH

Source: Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club / Ivan Garcia
| Translating Cuba -

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