Are writers born or made?

At the Centre what belongs to the Centre.

Just as its founders recall, the initial seeds of what today is the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre for Literary Formation at the beginning was not unaware of the controversy: was it possible and even advisable “to teach” how to write, the critics and professionals from the sector asked themselves at the time, or was there the risk of encouraging test-tube phenomena, prefabricated literature, scribes, more than writers?

Fifteen years later and showing concrete results, the work team that writer, teacher and editor Eduardo Heras León heads is more than convinced of the contribution of the Onelio Centre to the formation of the new generations of writers, an opinion endorsed by the frequent presence of the institution’s graduates among the prize winners in literary contests in and outside Cuba.

Leonardo Padura, “the most important Cuban novelist of these times” – according to Eduardo Heras León –, invited to the closing session of the institution’s 15th course, where he gave a lecture on fiction writing strategies, recognised that though he was a critic of the efficiency of the so-called “schools for writers”, was forced to reconsider his opinion, since the work carried out for years by the Onelio Centre had had much to do in the reality of the most recent Cuban literature.

For those not sufficiently familiar with its work, it is necessary to say that the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Centre for Literary Formation – which originally was barely an almost travelling Workshop between the Plaza Culture House and UNEAC’s Nicolás Guillén Hall -, has become a cultural institution that when celebrating its 15th anniversary has known how to surpass with flying colours its initial objectives, though not giving up its original effort of contributing to the theoretical formation of young writers – or those aspiring to be – throughout the country.

Perhaps its greatest secret, in addition to the work and perseverance that usually bear good fruit, has been the premise adopted as the point of departure by its founders, among whom it is necessary to mention Ivonne Galeano and the also writer and professor of the Centre, Francisco López Sacha. For them it was a question of creating a workshop of a new type, capable of combining theory and practice, while the foundations of the fiction writing technique would be taught parallel to the discussion and analysis of the texts presented by the students. Those who got to the Workshop – which in three years achieved the status of Centre -, not only demonstrated a special vocation for literary creation but also had already made their first incursions into the particular world of letters.

Following the popular tradition of celebrating young girls’ fifteenth birthday as a special moment in life, or in this case, of an institution, it ia logical to look back to evaluate the road travelled up until today: more than 800 young people from all over the country have been students of the Fiction Writing Techniques Courses given at the Centre and many of them already “have published several books and won the country’s most important literary prizes,” according to the Editorial of issue no. 13 of the magazines El Cuentero. “Many of them,” the publication affirms, “are already authors of required reference when discussing the new vicissitudes of contemporary Cuban fiction. Many of them are poets, journalists, playwrights, critics, professors, cultural promoters, literary advisors, editors, audiovisual makers, film and TV scriptwriters….”

It is evident that the Centre’s virtues also include its ability to have big dreams, though the budget restrictions bring it back once and again to reality. This is why, despite everything, it also has on its list of achievements the materialisation of a library in its current Miramar venue, a computer room to facilitate the work of the students and a video library that especially collects film adaptations of literary works.

Those initiatives that favour young people with opportunities to materialise their creative ideas, like the convocation to contests for book projects in diverse genres which give five creation scholarships, and the awarding of the renowned Onelio Jorge Cardoso Creation Scholarship whose winner is chosen every year among the participant in the La Gaceta de Cuba Short Story Contest deserve a mention apart.

As to the publication and publicising of works, the Centre is also becoming a required reference thanks to the work of the small Caja China publishing house, whose catalogue is building up with titles of former Centre students, chosen through a contest organised for this. To this is added the appearance of the aforementioned magazine El Cuentero, which opened a new space for exponents of fiction from among the new writers. In fact, in its most recent issue dedicated to celebrating this important anniversary, El Cuentero has doubled its pages to choose the testimony of professors and collaborators close to the institution, as well as a representative sample of the creative work of some of the authors who have maintained links with it, like Jorge Enrique Lage, Abel Fernández Larrea and Mariela Navarro, just to cite three examples of young people already recognised for their literary career.

One of the most recent dreams of the founders of the Centre, that has happily come true, has been the sponsorship of the El Dinosaurio International Contest of Mini-Stories – what other name could it have? -, which is already in its eighth edition and has the collaboration of the Provincial Book and Literature Centre of Sancti Spíritus and the Cuban Book Institute. An anthology that is a notable effort to divulge this peculiar fiction modality is prepared every year with the texts that reach the finals, the mentions and the prizes.
Undoubtedly, during these 15 years Eduardo Heras León and all his collaborators have carried out from the Centre a work in favour of the development of vernacular literature that perhaps is not measurable with concrete indices but that is already unquestionable (and can be much more in the future). They are also exceptional witnesses and have contributed to the development and gradual consolidation of some of the most outstanding talents among the new generations of writers. This is so much so that an upcoming article with Eduardo Heras León speaking on an issue that only a privileged witness could know about could well be dedicated to this subject: What do young people who get to the Centre write about? Which are their references and their favourite subjects? Toward where is this new wave of Cuban literature moving, pushing and bursting? (2014)

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