Cuban women’s literature: an unstoppable emergence

A phenomenon that cannot be underestimated as a rule.

Foto: Tomada de la revista La Jiribilla

Ever since the Countess of Merlin in the 19th century and that “avant la lettre” feminist that was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Cuban women writers are a very important part of the canon of national literature which for a long time was ignored and underestimated.

But already in the second millennium no one – except for a few misogynists who have fallen behind – would dare disregard a corpus that, analysed from the gender-based perspective, today has a long list of very important women’s names, from different generations and with the most diverse styles and modes of expression. What is happening is a veritable empowerment of women in the world of the word.


Even when feminism was an important social movement in the first decades of the Cuban 20th century, after the revolutionary triumph of 1959, this term was frequently stigmatised under the supposition that the emancipatory war had conquered, as if by magic, the equity between the sexes and many considered as “divergent” and dangerous a current that, in the 1960s, had a great boom in the international context.


dama 5Gender studies have a late development in Cuba and even in many academic circles are not considered valid for the exercise of a literary criticism that even many women authors – especially the youngest ones – reject because they consider them a way of isolating them in a ghetto that diminishes the values of their works to the attributes of “the feminine.”


However, if these studies would have been made in Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s perhaps they would have helped to make visible the women writers whose preference for themes of the private space at that time were left completely excluded from the canon as a consequence of ideological factors that privileged the masculine epic, the so-called “literature of violence,” even abolishing themes that had to do with the fantastic.


In the 1980s, however, a great amount of young women poets achieved a recognition that translated into important recognitions in literary contests and the publication of some anthologies. They started to outline features of a conceptual feminism that little by little made its way, not without reticence and suspicions, in the masculinised literary panorama of the island.


In those years authors like Mirta Yánez, Aida Bahr, María Elena Llana or Ana Luz García Calzada also reared their heads in a realist or fantastic narrative. It was only when the 1990s were well-advanced that they would be more or less accepted by a patriarchy that refused to lose its predominance in the canon.


This is so much so that in 1984 researcher and essayist Luisa Campuzano – who today is one of the most well-known critics devoted to the study of gender in Cuba – presented in a literary colloquium her fundamental study “Papers about a Shortage” which referred to the lack of attention and of the presence of Cuban women in fiction writing.


All that invisibility that functioned as an exercise of exclusive patriarchal values in 1996 led academician and writer Mirta Yáñez and I to decide to compile a panorama of Cuban women’s short stories from the predecessors of the 19th century to the then most current representatives of the genre in the literature of our country.


And it is precisely in the 1990s that, in my opinion, there was the largest emergence of women fiction writers in Cuban literature. With the crisis of what was called “special period” a literature written by women began with a generational confluence that greatly contributed to the wealth and diversity of the themes and styles of the women authors.


Incest, feminine eroticism, sexual orientation, conflicts of daily life and women characters who moved on the border of marginality were added to other more conventional aesthetics: realist and dealing with local customs, while absolutely Aristotelian stories on a stylistic level could be found together with texts marked by experimentation or intertextuality.dama 3


It was also in that decade that, in the theoretical sphere, the gender-based studies appeared, late but with institutional acceptance. In that sense one could cite the creation in 1994 of the Programme for Women Studies, led in Casa de las Américas by Luisa Campuzano and which made a call to hundreds of international women experts on the subject through the colloquiums that started being held every year and in which the most dissimilar subjects related to continental women’s writing are dealt with by women academicians.


In this way the masculine supremacy in Cuban literature started being “done away with” little by little and the literary prizes awarded to women writers, their participation in the juries of contests and their presence in anthologies, which in previous decades had been exclusively dedicated to works by men, started being habitual.


With this new millennium the younger and emerging women authors found a cleared road that makes their literature more neutral, less vindicatory and more like the one the opposite sex writes. Thus women’s literature today cannot be excluded from the copious and diverse canon of Cuban letters. (2016)

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