Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Oye, do you know of any other gay Cuban writers?

It's a question that comes up in conversation whenever I talk about my writing:
"Do you know of any other gay Cuban authors?"
Peripherally, I knew of one or two. Then I began asking around because if you try and google the above search terms, you're sent all over cyber space or to gay porn sites. This was one of the reasons I wrote Boston Boys Club and Miami Manunt - I wanted to write fun and light-hearted stories of being a gay Cuban professional in Boston or Miami because there are so few of us out there in the literary world. And let's face it, this isn't a common topic that the older Cuban exiles love to talk about while ordering their cortaditos at the cafecito counter at Versailles en Miami.
So here are some gay Cuban authors that I know of because I've read them, met them, or simply heard about them through the Cuban grapevine. I feel honored that I am the new kid (well, I am trying to be) on this literary block of highly respected writers. If you know of any other gay Cuban writers, let me know. So here's the first unofficial list of gay/bi Cuban writers.

Achy Obejas: She's a former Chicago Tribune arts and culture writer who has penned several books, mainly short story compilations, of being lesbian, gay and Cuban. One of my favorite books of hers is titled We Came All The Way from Cuba So You Can Dress Like That? The line comes from the abuela of one of the characters who is criticizing her lebsian nieta for dressing so casually as she prepares to go out one night. Her other books include Memory Mambo. Achy also edited Havana Noir, a collection of mystery tales set in Cuba and published last year. She's currently translating Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao into Spanish. I am planning to meet Achy in September for the Passing of The Pen: New Generation of Queer Writers Literary series in San Francisco. When I meet her, the first thing I am going to say to her is, "I Came All The Way From Boston So You Can Dress Like That?" Hopefully, she won't throw my own book at me.

Richard Blanco: This hunky Cuban poet studied to be an engineer in Miami and began working as one when the power of the pen seductively whispered his name. He has written books of poety such as City of Hundred Fires and Directions to the Beach of the Dead. His writing often examines the intersection of the hyphen between Cuban and American, where does one's cultural identity begin and end and is it bounded by geography when you are born in one place and grow up in another. I've actually met Richard in Miami a few times. His writing is as intense as his good-looks. Whew!

Rafael Campo: Rafael Campo is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and a Boston doctor. He turned to writing poetry and short stories as an outlet to deal with the duality of wearing a white coat at the hospital and being a gay Cuban American. Since the 1990s, he has published several books of poems and short stories including The Other Man Was Me, The Healing Art: A Doctor's Black Bag of Poetry, and his most recent book, The Enemy. Campo prescribes "bibliotherapy," which means using reading and writing to help patients heal their souls as much as the body from their illnesses. He encourages his patients to read and write so that they may have a better understanding of their illnesses. Consider his writing Chicken Soup for the Patient's Soul but with depth and poetic grace.

Reinaldo Arenas: He died several years ago but his writing and spirit lives on through republished copies of some of his famous books such as Before Night Falls (which became a movie in 2001) Color of Summer and Farewell to the Sea. Through poetic biting satire, his writing often criticized the state of Cuba's post-revolutionary period. While he lived in Cuba and was often subjected to prison sentences for his outspokenness and even louder gay behavior, his words crossed the Florida Straits and the Atlantic and gained him notoriety as a respected literary voice around the world. He died in 1990 from a suicide.

Ramiro Fernandez: Ramiro Fernandez is a seasoned photojournalist and former photo editor of various Time Inc. magazines including People and Entertainment Weekly. He's also a collector of vintage crisp and lush Cuban photographs, from the 1860s to 1960s. He's said to have one of the largest private collections of Cuban photographs. Last October, Ramiro, along with consultant Kevin Kwan and People En Espanol managing editor Peter Castro, published a coffee-table book called I Was Cuba featuring about 300 of these photographs.

David Valdes Greenwood: This Mambobean (as he calls himself) has written two books that explore his life as a half Cuban, Maine-bred gay man. The first was 2007's Homodomesticus, in which he chronicled his journey of finding his partner, marrying him and then adopting a baby girl. He followed that with A Little Fruitcake, a collection of short stories that reflect on the holidays with his family in Miami and Maine. His writing is humorous but tender, a celebration of love and family. Valdes Greenwood lives in Arlington, MA and teaches writing at Tufts University.


Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez: Okay, she's not gay but she does include gay and bisexual Latina characters in her novels so that's good enough in my book for this unscientific list. Alisa is a Cuban-American and Irish writer, former Boston Globe reporter (I remember when I was a summer intern, she would furiously type away in her pink hoodie and sweat pants at her desk after teaching aerobics.) She's better known as the queen of Chica Lit. In her debut novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, one of her six Latina narrators is a gay Colombian TV reporter named Elizabeth. Through this character, Alisa explores the complexities of being a gay black Latina in Boston. In her sequel, Dirty Girls On Top, Alisa invites her readers to catch up with the six sucias (as they are called) five years later. Among them is Elizabeth, as she struggles with being a lesbian mother of a newborn while having a lackluster lover who doesn't appreciate her or her baby boy. Lauren, the other sucia who is a Cuban-American Boston newspaper columnist, also explores bisexuality in this new book on her journey of self-acceptance. Here is a video of Alisa pretending to talk to a therapist about how all her characters visit her home and won't leave her alone until she writes about them. In this clip, she talks about the Lauren character.