Today Translating Cuba is publishing a tribute to Rafael Alcides, who died yesterday. We are republishing articles by and about him, and you can also do your own search of past articles on this site by going to this link.
The following “Author’s Biography” was written several years ago and is not up-to-date.
Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas, municipal district of Bayamo (Cuba) in 1933. A poet and storyteller, he was a master baker in his teen years. He has worked as a farmhand, cane cutter, logger, wrecking crew cook, and manager of a sundries store in a cane-cutters’ outpost.
Among his most recently-published titles are the poetry collections, GMT(2009), For an Easter Bush (2011), Travel Log (2011), Anthologies, in Collaboration with Jaime Londoño (2013), Conversations with God(2014), the journalistic Memories of the Future (2011), the multi-part novel, Ciro’s Ring (2011), and the story collection, A Fairy Tale That Ends Badly (2014).
As of 1993, he had been employed by the Cuban Institute of Radio & Television for more than 30 years as a scriptwriter, announcer, director and literary commentator when, at that time, he ceased all publishing and literary work in collaboration with the regime in Cuba. As a participant in numerous international literary events, Rafael Alcides has given conferences and lectures in countries in Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. His texts have been translated into many languages. He was honored with two Premios de la Crítica, and a third for a novel co-written with another author. In 2011 he received the Café Bretón & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española prize.
Note: This article is being republished from 2013. Rafael Alcides passed away yesterday, 19 June 2018.
My husband is not just any writer. He belongs to the generation known as “The Generation of the ’50s,” a rather arbitrary poetic grouping that started with Carilda Oliver (1922) and ran through David Chericián (1940). His generation’s peers — if they haven’t died or emigrated — have received the National Literature Prize and enjoyed social and official recognition. This is one of the reasons he is an extraordinary writer. Not only that he wasn’t seduced by the siren song of the National Prize ten years ago. Not only that he willingly “inxiled” himself from Cuba’s cultural life for twenty years and is not published in Cuba.
For him, the prize has been that his book Agradecido como un perro (Grateful As a Dog) was traded for cigarettes in the Combinado del Este prison in the late eighties, and asked around for; kids coming from the provinces discovered him by chance in a second-hand bookshop. His books today would be collectors’ items, of a writer unknown to the young and unpublished after 1990, if it weren’t for the Seville publisher Abelardo Linares who knocked on our door one day.
He is not a run-of-the-mill writer. Foreign publishers are highly sought after, their visits to Cuba put them in a position to receive a ton of unpublished and published texts from hopeful authors who either fete the foreign visitor or put a Santeria spell on them.
Alcides is incapable of boarding a bus, a shared taxi (almendrón), or a called taxi (panataxi); he is incapable of walking even 200 yards to meet a celebrity. Instead, he is an extraordinary host, so warm and attentive, who immediately makes even new acquaintances feel comfortable.
In this era of ideological polarization, he maintains an intact and intense affection for those he loves, whether a high government official or a senior opposition leader in exile. He forgives (but does not forget, he has excellent memory) some highbrow (?!) silliness from a fledgling poet to a functionary who from his new position has been allowed to treat him coldly. He will regrets the error of omission in the dedication to Roberto Fernández Retamar in a poem in a book just published in Colombia.
Another of the things that makes him extraordinary has to do with his appearance. When we started our relationship 24 years (!!) ago, my niece, with all the candor of ten years, wondered if he was Eliseo Diego. He was then a venerable white beard unsuspectedly balding. His contemporaries seemed like younger brothers. It turned out the joke was on them as he didn’t get any older while others lost their freshness, hair, pounds, physical and/or mental agility and for a long time the tables have been turned. That, despite a copious medical record very well concealed.
With the bias of affection, there are those who say he’s the best poet in the world. There’s no need to exaggerate, although some verses are saved for posterity.
These fires feed this man who writes and writes on a battered computer with no more to give. Leaving poetry behind he is dedicated to finishing enormous drafts, novels that became priorities in the rush of life.
No one would expect that behind this thunderous voice asking who’s last in line at the farmer’s market, this competent cook who saves me from the daily doldrums, is this Amazing Poet in “atrocious invisibility” who tomorrow, June 9th, will be 80 years old.
8 June 2013
14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2018 — Cuba’s Labor Justice Agency has ruled in favor of Lynn Cruz with regards to the claim presented by the actress after the Performing Arts Artistic Agency (Actuar) put an end to her contract last April without complying with the mandatory 30-day notice period. The artist was informed of the decision on Friday, 11 days after the five members of the court agreed with her.
The document issued by the Labor Justice Agency specifies that there was a violation of Resolution 44 that regulates labor relations in organizations overseen by the Ministry of Culture.
For Lynn Cruz, this ruling makes clear that Jorge Luis Frías Armenteros, director of Actuar, violated article 297 of the penal code with the “unwarranted imposition of a disciplinary measure.”
The president of the Labor Justice Agency, Iván Rodríguez, told Cruz that after this ruling, “it did not make sense to go to the municipal court” because Actuar was going to continue to “represent her without problems.”
As of now, the actress could be hired again but after what happened she does not trust that she will be able to return to her work, because she believes that the agency can work behind her back to prevent her name from being chosen by a director who is interested in her work.
For Cruz, there is no way to repair the “psychological and moral damage” this measure has caused her, in addition to the “loss of work” she suffered in this case.
The actress also wonders if this step was taken to protect Frías, that is to avoid a criminal complaint. This Friday, when asking Ivan Rodriguez if the director of Actuar would be sanctioned for his error, the president of the Labor Justice entity replied that the agency “could not sanction its own director.”
“Evidently they are protecting Frías, the procedure he used in my case was clumsy since the contract was violated, but there is an intention to protect him after that blunder he committed,” Cruz believes. Cruz is of the opinion what was decisive in her case — unlike the cases of Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, Oscar Casanella or Yanelis Nuñez — was that she recorded the public hearing and “made the recording public,” a hearing in which the director acknowledged his error in not notifying her 30 days in advance before canceling the contract.
At the public hearing Frías said that Actuar’s decision to terminate her contract had been taken due to the actress’s “demonstrations on the internet” against “the main leaders” of the Party and the government and acknowledged that they had made a mistake” in the procedure.”
Lynn Cruz (born 1977) has developed her career between theater and cinema, although she has also participated in some television shows. She has worked on several Cuban films including Larga Distancia and La Pared.
Cruz has a special performance in the documentary Nadie, directed by Miguel Coyula, which includes testimonies of the poet Rafael Alcides, an intellectual censored on the island. This film was presented at the independent El Círculo gallery with the presence of Alcides himself, without major incidents. However, another presentation was repressed by State Security, which blocked public access.
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Villares, in addition, was fined 500 pesos by the authorities, according to Martí Noticias.
During the arrest, “her interrogators told her that she had committed crimes, and in order to prove it to her they showed her a photograph that she had taken some time ago with two policemen. In the photo she appears with a fan with the logo of the CubaDecides opposition initiative” directed by Payá Acevedo, according to the Miami media.
In the cell where she was detained, the activist wrote with a stone on the wall “Art Yes, Censorship No. I am free.”
“They tell me that this is a damage to property and carries a fine of 500 pesos,” she explained.
Villares was arrested Wednesday along with other artists when they tried to attend the staging of the play Psychosis.
Among those arrested and then released were Tania Bruguera, actress Iris Ruiz (protagonist of the monologue that was to be performed), Adonis Milán (director of the play), poet Amauri Pacheco, art historian Yanelys Nuñez, another person identified as José Ernesto Alonso and the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.
The plot of the piece revolves around a person enclosed in a very small space showing obvious signs of madness who wants to leave the place.
The version that was presented was inspired by the events of 2010 at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana, popularly known as Mazorra, where 26 patients died of hunger and cold. In the monologue direct allusions were to be made to Raúl Castro and terms such as “dictatorship” were used.
The independent gallery El Círculo is subject to constant repression by the regime. State Security also closed this independent space in April to prevent the presentation of the documentary Nadie, by Miguel Coyula, which deals with the life of the poet Rafael Alcides.
Likewise, the political police set up another operation last November to prevent public attendance at the work “The Enemies of the People” directed by the documentary filmmaker Miguel Coyula, which fictionalized the final minutes of Fidel Castro.
Jorge Enrique Lage interview with Miguel Coyula (fragments) 2
Miguel Coyula: [… the cinema where I first encountered anime.] [… like the video games of the late eighties and early nineties, the anime of that time had no big budgets for a fluid animation at twenty-four frames per second, Disney-style. Then they went to a visual design and assembly and sound very often shocking.] [… in the subconscious, that left a mark on the film I make.]
For me it is very important to work the space and design the storyboard to the last detail, so that no image is repeated during the editing of a scene. That is something that comes from anime, and the comic book in general. Each panel expresses an idea, just as in literature each sentence expresses something different.
As for video games, the animation was even more limited: 2D, but that same limitation …] [… it made me shape an aesthetic where the image is as loaded as possible with small elements that add density to the setting.
[… the anime stories often left me with a bitter taste. Yaltus, known as Baldios outside Cuba, was a film that marked me a lot. Its apocalyptic and depressing ending, where the earth is completely contaminated with radioactivity, left me in a state of discomfort that I have pursued in my films.
[… one of the most striking films for me, for the stylistic collage it represents, was Belladonna of Sadness, 1973. For some reason it’s the 70’s that keeps calling me over and over again as a source of inspiration.
Site Manager’s note: Once all the fragments of this interview are translated (by different volunteers) we will unite them in order, in a single post.
Sadly, the above video is not subtitled, but whether or not you understand the words, you can observe Miguel Coyula and Rafael Alcides speaking.
Jorge Enrique Lage interview with Miguel Coyula (fragments) 3
Miguel Coyula: … And it’s [Rafael] Alcides for several reasons. First, because in my opinion he is the best Cuban poet alive. Pata de palo, Agradecido como un perro and Nadie are indispensable books; Especially Nadie [No one], written and censored in 1970, and that doesn’t see the light until 1993, when I read it for the first time and it hits me.
Alcides is often described as a sensualist, but his range is very wide. Take, for example, his poem “El Extraño“, which appears in the film: it is very brief, stripped of artifice, combines the existential and the political in a universal way, with an admirable economy of means.
But even if Alcides had not been able to write anything …] [… his own person is poetry; he has the gift of speech, a diaphanous word, he speaks of beauty and poetry without intellectual poses, despises politicians and yet can speak of them with poetry, to the point that the passion of his gestures makes him a force which seems more typical of the field of fiction than of the documentary.
[… probably Alcides is one of the few Cuban intellectuals of his generation (in fact, the only one I know of) who, residing on the island, has no qualms or filters when it comes to making public what he thinks. He has paid the price for his honesty with ostracism. Also contradictions and guilt coexist in his person. He gave himself up to a dream, sacrificed himself for it and accepted failure. I’ve always been interested in misfits. Alcides contained all the elements that interest me in the construction of a character. Perhaps his honesty and his nonchalance mean that the film can not find a place anywhere: neither in the diaspora nor in the intellectuals of his generation who remained on the island.
The fact that the film is indistinctly labeled “counterrevolutionary” and “communist” is something I am very pleased about.
The first thing we recorded was a four-hour interview, from which came a short web mini-series, seven chapters, titled “Rafael Alcides.” (Many people believe they have seen Nadie but what they have seen is the miniseries on YouTube that only totals twenty-nine minutes).
At first there was no theme at all, it was about Alcides talking freely, but he himself was outlining the theme of the Revolution and then we began to record more specific questions.
Site Manager’s note: Once all the fragments of this interview are translated (by different volunteers) we will unite them in order, in a single post.
Note: The video above is not subtitled but the excerpts from Nadie here are subtitled.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 April 2017 – Cuba’s State Security and the National Revolutionary Police surrounded the independent gallery El Círculo to prevent this Saturday’s screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody), directed by Miguel Coyula and featuring the censored poet and writer Rafael Alcides.
The filmmaker and his wife, actress Lynn Cruz, were intercepted by police at the corner of 13th and 10th Streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Starting several hours earlier the agents had closed the street to vehicles and pedestrians, according to a statement made from the location to 14ymedio.
Cruz and Coyula point out that without any reason and with “only a vague argument” the operation was carried out in the area, and the police asked for their IDs and didn’t let them pass. Only “four Spanish diplomats” managed to reach the gallery, according to Lia Villares, curator of El Circulo.
On 29 January Nadie received the Award for the Best Documentary during its international premier in the Dominican Global Film Festival.
“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there”
“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there,” said Coyula and Cruz describing the moment when the police blocked their access to the site where the documentary was going to be shown.
Cruz also denounced that State Security warned several of the invited guests that the operation was being carried out to “save” them from the “counterrevolutionaries” who had “deceptively” issued invitations to the screening.
“As authors of the work, we denounce the censorship that the government exercises because this time it went beyond the institution,” said Coyula.
“Art is also about the citizen’s right to share and discuss a film. Intellectuals and artists need to take a firm stand and defend their right to perform and display critical works, without compromise, because the attitude that that they take in life ends us being reflected in their work,” he added, speaking to 14ymedio.
Following the police deployment that prevented access to the gallery, the filmmaker invited several friends to his home where he projected the documentary. Among the guests was Michel Matos, director of Matraka Productions, who is strongly criticized by officialdom.
The Círculo had also announced a Saturday screening of Carlos Lechuga’s film, Santa and Andrés, but the film’s producer, Claudia Calviño, refused to allow the projection and called the gesture an “illegality” saying “this and other activities are outside the traditional marketing framework.”
Lía Villares circulated an email on Sunday in which she defined the “political” character of the gallery that seeks to “promote a culture that continues to be censored despite international awareness and witnesses.” The activist also points out that it is in Cuba that artists have “a moral responsibility to the present and future.”
For our readers who understand Spanish…
Our apologies for this being in Spanish and not subtitled.
Here is an article about the movie and with links to excerpts from the movie that are subtitled.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 June 2016 — Cuban filmmaker Miguel Coyula participated in the New Media Film Festival of Los Angeles with the seventh chapter of his series Rafael Alcides. The short film was part of a more than two-hour interview with with the well-known poet and writer, addressing topics such as art, beauty and Cuba past and present.
Filmed in Havana, with a minimalist presentation, in this seventh installment the actress Lynn Cruz recites the poem The Stranger, which gives its title to the chapter, in a moving and unadorned interpretation that salvages the lyrical work of an author now silenced in Cuba’s official catalogs and anthologies.
In the previous installments of the series, Alcides reflects on the relationship between intellectuals and power, the figure of Fidel Castro and the role played by the Cuban people in several events of the last 150 years.
The Stranger is competing in the Web Series category, along with submissions from 37 countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, France, Germany, Spain, Russia and Vietnam. The festival will take place June 7-9 at Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles and the short, just over two minutes long, is being presented as a world premiere.
The showing in Los Angeles will constitute the premiere of an official exhibition of the series directed, edited and designed by Miguel Coyula, who is also in charge of photography. However, the film has been available for weeks on the filmmaker’s Youtube channel.
During the last Young Filmmakers Exhibition, Coyula was invited to participate in the panel Routes and Routes, Cuban Cinema of the Diaspora in the 21st Century, organized by the researched Zaira Zarza. This panel debated the peculiarities of the diaspora and the formulas to keep alive contacts between “those who leave” and their audience on the island.
In his presentation, Coyula formally introduced the sixth chapter of the series dedicated to Alcides, under the title Capitalism. The filmmaker maintains in these recent creations his particular style of independent and artisanal production, relaying on clean and simple visual effects that build to a striking finale, with his pinpoint accuracy in mixing music, voice and image.
Coyula’s debut in feature films was Red Cockroaches and among his most outstanding productions is Memories of Overdevelopment, which was chosen in 2010 as the Best Cuban Film of that year by the International Film Guide. After several years living in the United States, the filmmaker has returned to live in Havana, where he is filming his third feature film: Blue Heart.
This video is the 6th in a series of vignettes extracted from a four-hour interview of Rafael Alcides conducted by the filmmaker Miguel Coyula. Below are links to the previous Chapters.
Rafael Alcides, Havana, 2 April 2016 — The government that has ruled us since 1959 insists that the American Naval Base in Cuba’s Guantanamo Province is illegal. Mistake. It is immoral, but not illegal. At a time when the United States did not hide its eye patch and peg leg it took advantage, before leaving the island, of four years of military occupation to get the impoverished Cuban government of the time to cede the 117 square kilometers where the base is located. Arrogant, it demanded a contract “in perpetuity.”
Resorting to sophistry, the authorities of the recently inaugurated Cuban government, after four hundred years of Spanish colonialism and a war lasting thirty years, got them to change the humiliating term “in perpetuity” for another that today would be comical if it didn’t move us to pity the precarious situation of those exhausted liberators.
Listen for yourself: In the document signed by both governments the territory that houses the Naval Base in held not “in perpetuity,” but for as long as the United States “needs it.”
Cuba, of course, has the duty to reclaim this territory. It is part of the Island. It belongs to it. But they should do so in polite terms, neighbor to neighbor, taking advantage of yesterday’s pirate, who today is, or tries to seem, sustained by democracy, the archetype of man dreamed of by God.
The Cuban government’s acting like a “tough guy,” is ignoring that while governments come and go, the conventions of one state with another state are the commitments of the nation. This is serious.
It would authorize Spain, for one example, to set aside the Treaty of Paris signed on Janaury 1, 1898 any time it wants, and to show up at mouth of El Morro with troops and the king, in person, to resume its former sovereign rights over “the Always Faithful island of Cuba.”
14ymedio, Havana, 2 March 2016 — The US Embassy in Havana denied the poet Rafael Alcides a visa to travel to Miami, this morning, believing he might be intending to emigrate, as reported by his wife, the blogger Regina Coyula. Alcides had been invited by the Vista Foundation, which organized a tribute to him and to the writer Manual Diaz Martinez, living in Spain; both writers were awarded the Gaston Baquero National Independent Literature Prize this last December.
In a very brief interview, the embassy official who met with Alcides classified him as a possible emigrant because he has a son in the United States and, in consequence, denied the visa.
“Come back in a year,” the official said at the close of the meeting. The poet has declined to comment on his reaction to what occurred.
Now 82, Alcides was born in Bayamo in 1933 and began his literary career at Cyclone magazine, and is considered one of the greatest Cuban poets of the so-called “50’s Generation.” He has published poetry collections such as Mountain Hymn (1961); Gypsy (1962) and his well-known Wooden Leg (1967). In 1983 his poetry collection Thanked Like a Dog was released, but by that time the author already suffered from the institutional silence that had marked decades of his work, due to his openly critical positions with regards to the Cuban government.
In 1993, he withdrew from all editorial collaboration on the island and subsequently resigned from the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) in an open letter. In 2011, he won the Café Breton & Bodegas Olarra of Spanish Prose Prize.
At a meeting of members of the Club of Independent Cuba Writers (CEIC), held in Havana in late January this year, the group’s coordinator, Victor Manuel Dominguez stressed that in “the official exclusion and manipulation of his work” it is recognized that “the censors, the ideological tattletales, and the political commissars who have tried to silence Rafael Alcides… have failed.”
This video is the 5th in a series of vignettes extracted from a four-hour interview of Rafael Alcides conducted by the filmmaker Miguel Coyula. Below are links to the other Chapters.
This video is the 4th in a series of vignettes extracted from a four-hour interview of Rafael Alcides conducted by the filmmaker Miguel Coyula. Below are links to the other Chapters.