Cuban Poet Carilda Oliver Labra Dies, One of the Principal Lyrical Voices of the Island in the 20th Century

Carilda Oliver Labra won the National Literature Prize in 1997. (

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 August 2018 – The poet and writer Carilda Oliver Labra died in the early morning hours this Wednesday at 96 years of age, according to the official press. This matancera (i.e. woman from Matanzas)  was one of the most important voices of the Cuban lyric of the twentieth century, with a notable individual style and a great passion for the promotion of culture.

Born in Matanzas in 1922, Oliver Labra graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree from the Institute of Secondary Education of that city and her first book, Lyrical Prelude, was published in 1943. Later she became part of the Peña Literaria Matancera, where she held various positions, including President of the group.

The Cuban writer garnered second place in the International Poetry Competition, organized by the National Broadcasting Co. of New York, and in 1949 published Al sur de mi garganta (South of My Throat). In 1952 her texts appeared in the anthology Fifty Years of Cuban Poetry, compiled by Cintio Vitier, and she married the lawyer and poet Hugo Ania Mercier, whom she divorced in 1955.

In those years Oliver Labra worked in the First Festival of the Décima organization in the Sauto Theater, published in her city the Canto a Matanzas (Song to Matanzas), worked in the newspaper El Imparcial on the feature Saturday’s Poem and also served as Director of Culture in the municipality of Matanzas. At that time she wrote one of her most controversial poems: Canto a Fidel (Song to Fidel).

After January 1959, she worked as an English teacher in Matanzas, participated in the literacy campaign and married in second nuptials tenor Felix Pons Cuesta, of whom she would be widowed in 1980.

In the decade of the 80s she received the Distinction for National Culture, the National Literature Prize and the “José Vasconcelos” Hispano-American Prize. The 13th International Book Fair of Havana was dedicated to her, most of her volumes have been published and reissued and an international colloquium about her work was held at the “Camilo Cienfuegos” University of Matanzas.

At the end of that decade the poet experienced an incident little mentioned in her official biography. She was injured in the abdomen during a presentation at the Pensamiento de Matanzas bookstore, to which she was invited, and which was busted by the combined action of extremists and agents of State Security. The gathering was dedicated to the theme of perestroika in the Soviet Union.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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