No visitor to Cuba can return home without having seen or heard the name José Martí (1853 – 1895), hero of independence from Spain and literary lion. His image graces statues and memorials not just in Cuba but in other countries as well. He lends his name to José Martí International Airport in Havana, the town Martí and numerous streets across the island. Poet, journalist, essayist, novelist, translator, professor and philosopher, he is staggeringly quotable and is the building block upon which stands the Cuban national identity.
“All people, have a right to be educated; and then in return, they have the obligation to educate others.”
Following the Revolution, the government took Martí’s words to heart and instituted a massive campaign in 1961 that resulted in universal literacy throughout the island. Today, Cubans love the written word – the Cuban International Book Fair, held annually since 1991, is the largest in Latin America. Where else in the world would you find the role of official reader (of news, poetry and literature) to the workers to be a key job in tobacco factories?
When the posthumously-corrected version of the 1966 Cuban classic Paradiso by Jose Lezama Lima was released in 1991, it generated the frenzy worthy of a rock concert. Lezama Lima (1910-1976) was a pivotal member of the Orígenes Group, a collective of authors and artists associated with the influential magazine Orígenes in 1944. The dramatist Virgilio Píñera was another significant member of the group. Larger-than-life Lezama Lima influenced generations of Cuban writers; and the centennial of his birth was on UNESCO’s list of anniversaries to be celebrated in 2010-11.
Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) was Cuba’s beloved national poet and the founding president of the Cuban writers’ and artists’ union. Guillién captured the spirit of Afro-Cuban life with the cadences of son music.
Alejo Carpentier [1904 2008], known for his concept of lo real maravilloso, (the marvelous in life) wrote in an innovative style that framed the ironies of the outlandish in real life.
Contemporary writers abound, such as Rogelio Riveron who won the Italo Calvino Award (2008) and the Julio Cortazar Award ; Adelaida Fernández de Juan, Jose Manuel Prieto, Abel Prieto, Abilio Estévez and Ena Luceia Portela.