Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Prison Diary LXII Award-Winning and Censored Books

Prison Diary LXII: Award-Winning and Censored Books / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on October 29, 2013

With the recent presentation in Europe of my novel "The Summer When God
Was Sleeping", which won the Internation Franz Kaka Prize for Novels
from the Drawer, convened in the Czech Republic, and the resumé of
awards which accompany me, you could think that I am a very lucky writer
when it comes to awards, but this is very far from reality.

I want to share and I'm sure that I once wrote this in another post,
that if you could publish in Cuba, it was thanks to the competitions,
which function as a form of blackmail, once won, it shows their moral
and ethical responsibility, which I assure you that they do not have,
but they like to pretend to the public, especially internationally, that
they themselves do have moral and ethical responsibility, because my
books were and are rejected out of hand as soon as they are presented to
publishing houses.

To me, they made it harder than anyone to get published. The editors and
newsroom chiefs of these publishers, who maintain dialogues at book
fairs as friends, confessed to me the impossibility of publishing them,
precisely because of the topics addressed; if they did so they would be
relieved of their jobs. Therefore, at different times, I was rejected
from several news features, which were intended to show the different
ways to approach the narrative by writers of my generation.

My art was always accompanied by the themes of social deprivation and
lack of political freedoms, so I was constantly an unprintable writer. I
learned that winning the awards was the only possibility for me to
address my failure to publish. Therefore in 1992, after I had been
awarded the Casa de las Américas Prize, it was withdrawn thanks to the
interference of State Security before the jury which retracted its vote,
convinced that my human and slightly epic vision of the war of Cubans in
Africa would create great political damage and it did not seem eloquent
nor productive to present an image of those suffering soldiers that I
outlined in my stories.

After changing the title of the book, in an attempt to mislead the State
security agents, who were like dogs sniffing the trail of my creations,
I sent it to a contest of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba
(UNEAC), and it was honored in 1995; but that wasn't enough to get it
published and for three years it would remain on the desk of the then
President of UNEAC, Abel Prieto. After a dark negotiation, it was
published in 1998, after I agreed to remove five stories from the final
copy. They published a poor and ugly edition on purpose, which more
closely resembled a box of detergent than a book and this was done with
the purpose of weakening the book's distribution.

In 2001, after internal pressure from the organizers of the Cuban Book
Institute, whose president was the Taliban Iroel Sánchez, it was decided
in the office of Iroel Sánchez himself, with a vote of 2 to 1, with the
previous winner of the award, the writer Jorge Luis Arzola,
communicating via telephone and by giving his vote to my collection of
short stories, my book "The Children Nobody Wanted" saw the light of day.

Immediately, the War Combatants Association of Cuba (veterans), sent a
letter to the Ministry of Culture and the Book Institute itself, for the
critical vision of my literature, cataloged the poor management before
the Revolution and condemned the actions of those leaders of the culture
that allowed it. Iroel Sanchez himself, who was taunted for having
participated in the Angolan war, confessed to me that his fellow
soldiers criticized him for having allowed, despite it being against
their will, the book's publication.

Later, in 2006, also under pressure, when the doctor Laidi Fernández was
part of the jury, and at the end she gave her vote, when she realized
that there was no point in voting against, it would be 3-2, and that her
father, the poet Roberto Fernández Retamar, president of Casa de las
Americas, made the comment to Roberto Zurbano, then Director of the
Editorial, "my book would remove the foundations of the institution,"
the jury awarded me the prize, and the book, despite being published and
presented in a small percent of the copies which they delayed for two
years, in another attempt to postpone the promotion of the book.

Anyway, I regret nothing, something made me guess that it was the right
thing, so much censorship against me was the announcement of a
literature which was non-conformist and contained an unfriendly vision
of officials. These are the fortunes of my "prize-winning" books, and so
much anguish has accompanied them, to the same extent that they caused
distress to the political and cultural leaders.

For many years, more than ten books have slept in my drawer. Sometimes
they look through the crack and sigh, waiting for better times, that the
darkness would dissipate and the light and the wind would come in and
stir the box like signs of progress, as it did recently with a ray of
light with the Franz Kafka Prize.

One already escaped, and those that remain in the drawer await the
literary raft which will take them across the raging sea of censorship
imposed by the dictatorship, to reach the land of the reader and be
published in their own right, and not to be silent but to be waving
little flags and smiling at leaders and self-censors. At that price I
prefer the "unpublished."

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton prison settlement. October 2013.

Translated by: Shane J. Cassidy

28 October 2013

Source: "Prison Diary LXII: Award-Winning and Censored Books / Angel
Santiesteban | Translating Cuba" -

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