Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Research assistance: Stacey Balkun, Festival Assistant
Born and raised in Havana, the daughter of a militant dock worker and trade union seamstress who supported her scholarly and artistic pursuits, Nancy Morejón is the most widely translated Cuban woman poet of the latter half of the twentieth century.
Through more than twenty volumes of poetry, Morejón’s work remains deeply connected to place, in all the various connotations that word conjures. The city of Havana and the lush tropical zone of her native Cuba are brought vividly into the reader’s imagination with rich, sensual detail. But she is no mere regional poet. Place, for Morejón, is often defined by the people who inhabit it, and her poems are full of compassionate portraits of family members, friends, lovers, colleagues and strangers seen in passing.
This habit of witnessing has made Morejón an impassioned spokesperson for the people of her place, and so, history, politics and social issues are recurring themes in her work. Morejón sees the African-Cubans of her homeland and all people of African descent living in the Americas as part of the larger group of all African-Americans. In this sense, the place they share is made up of the North and South American continents, where African slaves were brought by Europeans for hundreds of years. She manages to give these many themes a personal immediacy in poems like “I Love My Master.”
Although Morejón’s awareness of her place in this larger group pervades her work, she is equally aware of the social ramifications of being a member of several distinct groups: Cubans, Cubans of African descent, and women. How could she not be? She was the first person of African-Cuban descent to receive a degree in faculty of arts at Havana University, and the first black woman poet in Cuba to be widely published and attain professional status as a writer, critic and translator.
And yet, only a poet acutely aware that she is an individual, one particular person living in one specific woman’s body, could have written a poem like “The Drumming.” In Morejón’s poetry, the lyrical is also political, and the historical is also personal because she clearly understands that what we as individuals consider our most private and intimate experiences—first love, profound loss, concern for our friends, family and country—are also the most universal.
A powerful reader, Nancy Morejón has appeared at festivals and universities across North America, including Split This Rock and the International Festival of Poetry of Resistance in Toronto, and has served as writer-in-residence at Wellesley College and the University of Missouri-Columbia. A generous selection from her body of work can be found in Looking Within/Mirar Adentro: Selected Poems/Poemas Escogidos, 1954-2000.
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