Cuban poet and critic Nancy Morejón visits New York City

Cuban poet and critic Nancy Morejón visits New York City
Fecha de publicación: 
16 May 2024
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The Cuban poet Nancy Morejón has been visiting the United States for the last month and a half. During her trip she gave a reading at California’s San Francisco State University and conducted a literary workshop at the Instituto Cervantes in Chicago, Illinois. She also traveled to the University of Missouri to take part in the “2024 Symposium: Afro-Cuban Legacies” and read some of her poetry on a recent evening at Manhattan’s The People’s Forum

It’s been an exhausting trip, the famed writer confessed, but an interesting one.

“It’s nice. It’s a tight program, which I loved,” she said. “Let me tell you, it was very rich, very spontaneous, lots of people and many new readers. There were people that approached who knew my name, but not my poems. So, I started just to communicate with them.”

Morejón has been a world-renowned poet for decades now. She has won the international Struga Golden Wreath, was named Cuba’s National Poet in 2018, and has had her work translated into English, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, and Dutch. Morejón has also served as president of Cuba’s Writers’ Union; worked with and written a book about the famous Afro Cuban poet-journalist Nicolás Guillén; and served as a senior adviser for Casa de las Américas and the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.

Morejón’s accolades come because she has a way of sanctifying words. She says that her basic practice of reading and being informed is what pushes her to create, and she does not do any research or create long plot lines before writing her poetry. Her work is based on memory.   

“The very first thing is memory,” she said. “For instance, my very famous poem, ‘Mujer Negra / Black Woman,’ I did not make a research; it was just a dream I had. I wanted to tell the story of the Black woman I saw in my dream: to fix her memory and to fix the memory of the passage for those Black women everywhere.” 

In one section of “Mujer Negra” (as translated by Kathleen Weaver) Morejón writes:

I still smell the foam of the sea they made me cross.

The night, I cannot remember it.

The ocean itself could not remember that.

But I can’t forget the first gull I made out in the distance.

High, the clouds, like innocent eyewitnesses.

Perhaps I haven’t forgotten my lost coast,

nor my ancestral language.

They left me here and here I’ve lived.

And, because I worked like an animal,

here I came to be born.

How many Mandinga epics did I look to for strength.

Influential Black writers in Cuba

Morejón said that when she returns to Cuba from this trip, she’s getting back to work on writing her memoirs. “Yes, I will be writing my memories. All of these stories about how I fell in love with French and then I studied French, and my specialization in French.” She said her memoirs will also look at influential Black writers in Cuba like Guillén, the poets Gastón Baquero and Rafaela Chacón Nardi, and folklorist/researcher Rogelio Martínez Furé

Born in Havana in 1944 to Angélica Hernández Domínguez and Felipe Morejón Noyola, Morejón said her parents were labor activists who quickly realized that she was a precocious child. They believed she deserved to have the opportunity to live the life of an intellectual.

“I’m telling you; my father was––I have talked about this––my father was a poor man. He was a sailor, he used to work in the harbor. He had to carry heavy things from the ships to land. And he was so worried because I was a good pupil. They realized, my parents, that I was a little bit smart and intelligent. And he was very worried because he did not have the money to take me to the university. Because it was 100 pesos, my father did not have the 100 pesos.” 

After years of worrying about how he could pay to further his child’s education, Felipe Morejón got angry and started to complain. “But complaints didn’t allow me to get into the university,” Morejón said. “But [in] 1959, both of them, my parents, they were trade unionists. They had, in a way, a role: they participated. And finally, education became free, so I entered into the university [for] free. So, it may seem silly or whatever, I don’t care. That’s my story, my personal story. I wouldn’t have been a writer; I wouldn’t have been a professional of literature without that revolutionary process. Because for us, it was completely impossible. My father could not afford, my family could not afford the entrance to the university. So those anecdotes are very strong because they are my life.” 

Life for Afro Cubans is often difficult, but its joys also remain profound, Morejón said. And during this trip, she saw that the University of Missouri’s “2024 Symposium: Afro-Cuban Legacies” put some of those joys on display. Morejón was proud to point out that the symposium exhibited several works of art by Afro Cubans, and some of her favorite was the photography of Roberto Chile, a photographer who is known for coming into close contact with the faces of his Afro Cuban subjects and emphasizing the importance of their everyday actions. 

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