“I’m a demon who writes what she feels” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid
Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 December 2014 — Wendy Guerra is a rare bird in a country where everyone is seeking conclusive adjectives and extreme descriptions. Actress, writer, blogger and a Havanan down to her core, she always stands out. We remember her on the TV screen; in the pages of a book her writing will always touch us.

Today we talked about her literary work and the thematic and vital obsession that Cuba has been for her.

Question: The book Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Nude in Havana) surprises the reader with its perfect symbiosis of Anaïs Nin’s voice and your own voice. What is your creative process to achieve that effect?

Answer: First, I thank you for starting this exchange with a question of a literary nature.

Everything is in the language. Each fragrance that is in this book is powerfully driven by her voice and it is the use of her own turns of phrase, the discursive character of the author that distills and strengthens it. I spent twelve long years researching the Cuban fibers of Anaïs Nin. I earned several scholarships in France and the United States to find clues about the Cuban footprint of the author. It was the UCLA Department of Special Collections that gave me the opportunity read her unexpurgated diaries to research Anaïs’s island origins.

Accents lost and recovered, endemic pains, her marriage at La Finca La Generala, her relationship with the Cuban “sugarocracy,” her deep uprooting and the uncontrollable way of riding with her father, the Cuban pianist Joaquín Nin Castellanos. Her relationship with her brother, the composer and singer Joaquín Nin Cumell. Her mother, the Cuban opera singer Rosa Culmell, the hard exile that took her from luxury to poverty, from pain to euphoria… all this was the perfect climate to approach the writing of Posing Nude in Havana. What came to the fore was a deep respect for completing her words with mine.

Keep in mind that her Cuban Diary has very few pages and my delirium was always to write an apocryphal novel; literary conjecture about what might have happened.

Father-Cuba-Diary, for both of us, were, are and will be subjects as intimate as they are universal.

Q. What new literary project are you working on now?

A. I’m writing a novel about fear. The feeling of persecution many of us Cubans have, the panic that they are recording our conversations, of being watched, searched, harassed. This psychosis travels with us. La espía del Arte (The Art Spy) (the working title) will have approximately 100 pages. A brief piece full of neurosis and a sense of humor, the human-Cuban spectacle uncovered, what’s left of us after the long observation, the obligatory exhibition.

Some of my friends in exile think I am the spy of Cuban art who returns to Cuba with their secrets, which I pass on as reports or accusations. In Cuba, on the other hand, they think I’m hiding something, that I have some plan; they are suspicious of these long visits among the exile and think I’m the head of something, the spearhead of something. Who am I? A demon who writes what she feels, confident in her impressions, who manages to translate them, and therein lies the danger. I write or say what people think is not fashionable.

Another ongoing project is research into Ana Mendieta. Ana has been my literary and personal inspiration, now I’m beginning to find my way into her mystery. It will be long, I will spend all my savings in finding it, but… perhaps it isn’t literature, to open every one of the tightly sealed doors to find yourself?

Q. Many of us remember you for your performances in several TV series and programs. Should we resign ourselves to not seeing that side of you any more?

R. Vicente Revuelta was the person who made visible all my skills. Without him I’d never have seen my ability to act which, even so, I consider limited. Everything I did on television came from a path that he had already traced like a tattoo on my intellect. This cycle was very important because, for me, to write is to incarnate and thanks to this effort I respect the character and sense of interpretation… but no, no I didn’t feel happy as an actress, it is in literature where studying and growing makes me better, frees and defines me.

Vincent knew that Andrea Sarti (Gallileo Galilei) could repeat the lines and expand them. I was that actress that was arguing within each one of the speeches and with the director’s determinations. I was the actress who managed to write and dictate her own character.

Not all Cubans have found it possible to be a person, most of us have changed into characters to win this long race of resistance.

Q. From the publishing point of view you’ve experienced the extremes. From accolades like the Editorial Bruguera prize and the 2009 Carbet des Lycéens prize, to the scant attention your work has received from Cuban publishers. What do you think you’ve missed experiencing?

A. I want to publish in Cuba everything that’s been translated or published outside of it. I want to bring the best literature of my generation and my country, Cubans are excellent readers and deserve the power to update and feed their hunger for reading. I want to keep flowing with all my publishers and I want Cuba to accompany me in this process. I want what happens with Leonardo Padura to happen to me. Whenever his book comes out in France or Spain, Cuban readers have the opportunity to read it in their own land. The prizes are the vehicle to make yourself known in the world, to be published in your homeland is the way to confront the nature of what you do and are.

Q. You suffered an incident of censorship in the Santa Cruz Festival of Literature of Bolivia. Was it a surprise or were you able to foresee something?

A. It seemed like a distant situation but all this is so recognizable for us that we can even hum it like a Russian song that talks about snow in the middle of a Cuban beach. I imagine that this time those who blocked my presentation have reasons to agree and accept censorship, or to remain silent and bow their heads. The strange thing is to think that something a woman like me says in public can disrupt or affect a system like this… is it that fragile?

Q. The title of one of your novels is very revealing of the Cuban situation. Everyone Leaves, says the cover, and many of us wonder why Wendy Guerra is not leaving this country?

A. When I saw the filmed version of this novel, directed by Colombian director Sergio Cabrera, I knew this was not my own story. It’s a fictional story that left my hands and belongs entirely to those people who, like me, suffered the State as an executioner-intrusion installed in the center of the most sacred relationship: the family. The novel talks of the desertions of the soul, not only does it touch on the heartbreaking geographical exodus, we are talking about the flight of family and close friends in the name of a slogan or political responsibility.

I don’t want to go to restore a foreign space that I don’t feel a part of. In my particular case, I want to feel that each one of my ideas, tantrums and battles goes to nurture the emotional and human restoration of girls like me, who have come to maturity without the ability to explain to ourselves why they abandoned us in exchange for a castrating and false collective happiness. This place where being human ceases to matter, to become ciphers.

If I haven’t left it’s because I think that the wounds, before being healed, have to be named, starting from the scene of the pain. Some day, when everyone returns, I will go to a town on the other side of the world to learn how to write diaries from afar.