Salvador Redonet, a Teacher Outside the Mainstream

Salvador Redonet dedicated a good part of his research to the narrative of Cuban youth. (Margarita Mateo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 30 December 2018  — When he died 20 years ago, barely over 50, Salvador Redonet was younger than many of his protégés at that time and many beginning writers that he made known. Almost all those “newest ones” that he promoted so tirelessly are as old or older than he was when he died. But for all of them the teacher is still second to none.

Salvador Redonet Cook was anything but a typical academic. His friend and colleague Margarita Mateo has spoken about his rejoicing when someone was surprised because he had quoted the lyrics of a popular song in an analysis of a Cuban short story and accused him of “mixing semiotics with chatter.” The humble Dr. Redonet was not ashamed to live in Buena Vista.

As a critic and literary researcher, he did not leave an extensive work, unfortunately, although he published several anthologies and wrote countless prologues and essays on the work of narrators whom nobody knew, to which he gave the wide — and later much discussed — denomination of the “novísimos (newest),” after years of traveling workshops and literary events throughout the island’s provinces.

Although he claimed very seriously that he “lived from the story,” and Vivir del cuento was a title of his, El Redo, as everyone called him, actually lived for the story, to study, x-ray, criticize, systematize and reveal the life of that multiform and little studied creature, the Cuban story. He delved so deeply in his investigation that he brought to light a whole generation of storytellers who changed the face of the controversial literature of the Revolution.

The “novísimos” brought, more than a breath of fresh air, a great slap in the face: the tremendous revelation that, under the triumphalist and hypocritical disguise of all that epic narrative that glorified the heroes who had drowned in the heat of History with a capital H, there was a vast raw reality, cruel and even dark, where people struggled desperately to survive far removed from the mythical “New Man” and the obedient android produced in series.

Already in life, El Redo had become a kind of legend in the School of Letters. The most rigorous and entertaining of teachers. The ‘marginal’ PhD. Alejandro Álvarez Bernal describes his astonishment when he saw a skinny black man with soft manners come into the classroom with a gold tooth. One only has to remember that his kindness, his wisdom and his honesty were able to survive, and even to infect others, in the intellectual and academic environment of those dreary years.

It is impossible to say too little of the chaotic, black, poor, gay and stubborn grandmaster, who made everyone feel special and appreciated from his enormous heart, which grew so much, literally, that it killed him in the end.

His library was a small platform at the bottom of the humble house where he lived and, according Angel Santiesteban, as it was behind a tenement, the neighbors, when they were playing dominoes and discovered the light on in his ‘library’, tried to speak softly because “the teacher is studying.”

A researcher of stories, he had an aura of a thousand stories, anecdotes and funny sayings behind him. There were those who claimed that, although he could ordinarily could appear drunk — he spoke brokenly and moved erratically — when he drank he became more and more sober, until he reached the supreme lucidity that characterized him.

Some of us remember how, after one of the strokes that he suffered, going through therapy in which he had to relearn many things, such as the domain of speech, El Redo tried to convince the doctors that, if he could not pinpoint what things were, north and south or right and left, it was not because he had not yet recovered his cognitive capacity, but because he had never been trained in such complicated data.

Ronaldo Menéndez remembers him as “negrito humibrí.” Álvarez Bernal as a kind of Juan de Mairena, that teacher created by Antonio Machado who was his favorite character. To everyone, he was the best of friends and the owner of the judgment that could not be appealed, but he also avoided a focus on himself because there was always something else more important.

One of the many merits of Salvador Redonet was to have been one of the scholars who most brought to light Virgilio Piñera when he was still kept in the shade. And the importance that this writer had for what happened in Cuban literature from those early ’90s will never be overestimated, while the country plunged into the abyss of socialist failure.

Ena Lucía Portela, José Miguel Sánchez (Yoss), Daniel Díaz Mantilla, Raúl Aguiar, Karla Suárez, Rolando Sánchez Mejías, Rogelio Saunders, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Jorge Alberto Aguiar, Ricardo Arrieta, Amir Valle, Alberto Garrido… It is impossible to remember every one of the writers who began publishing in that dark decade and who were somehow discovered or promoted by him.

But that noble work was not his only obsession, the fever that made everything turn pale for him. Ronaldo Menéndez tells how he surprised him once when he confessed: “Look, mine are Miguel Hernández, Antonio Machado, Dostoyevsky … The newest ones are to entertain me.”

Today there is a literary workshop, a university chair, a library with his name. But, as Luis Marimón wrote, “I regret it viscerally for the students who will not have the opportunity to know the lean body and the feverish agitation of Salvador Redonet.”

In spite of his narrative passion and, like academia, his narrative structure, El Redo got to perpetrate poems and even received mentions in poetry contests. When Dennys Matos reminded him, surprised, the teacher shrugged his shoulders: “Nobody is perfect,” he replied.

As someone has already noted with regret, he, who wrote the verse I always arrived late everywhere, was the first to leave. But, speaking one day about “transcendence,” El Redo insisted that some friends will “remember me while they live.”

And we do, Redo.


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