Books on Cuba
The Autobiography of a
Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba
Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories
Fidel Castro and
the Quest for a Revolutionary Culture in Cuba
Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the
Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon
and Other Essays /
Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball
Aesthetics in Contemporary Latin America Art /
Customs of Cuba /
Man-making Words; Selected Poems
of Nicholas Guillen
Afro-Cuban Voices: On Race and Identity on
Contemporary Cuba /
Afro-Cuba: An Anthology of Cuban Writing
on Race, Politics, and Culture
Popular Poet of the Caribbean /
Selected Poetry by Nancy Morejon
Cuba: After the
* * * *
A Conversation on Cuban Life & Culture
Rudy: You have been to Cuba
three times within the last year and a half. Could you tell us briefly
what is your love for Cuba that you have gone there so frequently?
Herbert: Actually my interest in Cuba goes back
a number of years. I think I really became interested in Cuba in the
1970s when I had an opportunity to study Cuban literature and fell in
love with the poetry of Nicolas Guillen. It has become much easier to travel
to Cuba in recent years than previously. It was upon returning
from a trip to Mexico that I learned of a library tour to Cuba to visit
libraries throughout the Island that decided that I would finally
Rudy: So your discovery of Irene Diggs and her
dissertation occurred on this first visit?
Herbert: Yes. One of the things that I did to
get funding for the trip from my library was to write a proposal to see
if I could get a copy of the 1944 dissertation of Irene Diggs, which was
written and researched at the University of Havana.
You know, Irene Diggs was a long-time
associate of W.E.B. Du Bois and much later a professor of Anthropology
and Sociology at Morgan State University. I was very fortunate in that I
located her dissertation at the Jose Marti National Library and was
granted permission to photocopy her monograph. This monograph is going
to become a part of the Afro-American Collection of the Enoch Pratt free
Rudy: So who in Cuba agreed to your
photocopying Diggs' dissertation?
Herbert: Eliades Acosta Matos, the director of the
Jose Marti National Library, granted permission for the document to be
Rudy: So did you meet or talk to anyone who was
familiar with Diggs and the professor she studied with? What was
Herbert: Unfortunately, I didn't meet anyone
who knew Irene
Diggs and her studies at the University of Havana. However, her mentor
and the subject of her dissertation, Fernando Ortiz was nationally and internationally
known. Ortiz was known for his studies on
Afro-Cuban culture and society. I met a number of people who knew him
and his work.
Rudy: Were there other things of interest that you did
and accomplished on this first trip to Cuba. You were there how long?
Herbert: Well, I also did a taping of a
children's librarian reading short stories. This taping will be used for
Pratt's Read A Story Aloud. This is an over-the-phone program in which children can call in and listen to a
story being read. In this case they can call in and hear the story being
read in Spanish. They are excerpts, not complete stories. I spent two weeks in Cuba on this first
Rudy: Did you see other cities than Havana on this
Herbert : Yes. I flew first into Varadero and from
Varadero we went to Mantazas, Pinar del Rio, also Santa Clara, the restored city of Trinidad, and to Vinales. So much of what I did on the
first trip was visiting the western part of the island. Because Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean
islands, we could concentrate only on one part.
Otherwise we would have to fly to another part of the island. We traveled
these western cities by bus. We visited a number of libraries as well as other cultural
Rudy: Outside of Havana, what was the most interesting
of these western cities and why?
Herbert: I like Mantanzas very much. I am partial
to Mantanzas. It is the sister city of Baltimore and I am an
executive board member of the Baltimore-Mantanzas Sister City
Organization. There are a number of cultural exchanges planned for the
coming year. In fact, we hope to bring a group of women drummers for the
Rhythm festival this fall in Baltimore.
Rudy: What about the second trip, which occurred within a
year of the first? How did that come about?
Herbert: As it turned out, this was also a library
related trip. Imight add it is easier to go to Cuba with some of kind
professional organization than otherwise. On this trip we visited the
eastern part of the island. The cities of Holquin and Santiago de Cuba.
Rudy: What made this a memorable trip? Is this the
trip you rode in the funny taxi?
Herbert: Oh you are referring to the Coco taxi. These
are three wheelers used for local traffic. It is just like your normal
Wherever I'd go, I'd used them. The Coco taxis are very common. They are
an open coco shell and I believe they use gas.
I was fortunate to
meet and interview several poets in Santiago de Cuba. One was Jesus Cos
Causse and Rene Lescay. Both of these names are Haitian
names. There is a strong Jamaican and Haitian influence in Santiago.
Rudy: So what about these two poets? What did you
discover. Are they known outside of Cuba, have they won national prizes.
Are they young older. Tell us a bit about Causse and Lescay.
Herbert: Both of these poets are middle age. Cos
Causse. (Cos is the father's last name and Causse is the mother's last
name.) Cos Causse has written at least six or seen books. All of his books
have music in them in some way, at least in the titles. Currently, I am
studying one of his books, which is called Concierto de Jazz (Jazz
Concert). I find some of the poems to be extraordinary.
I hope to translate some into English, so others will be able to
appreciate his work.
Lescay is not as well known and has not published
as much as Cos Causse. But he too is an excellent poet and also a very
good photographer. I have photos of Lescay. I think I also have a photo of
Cos Causse. Rene has another last name but I can't think of it at the
Rudy: So how did these interviews come about? Will you
be staying in communication with these two poets?
Herbert: Actually, I was introduced to Cos Causse by
Raphael Canpana Ochoa, who is also an artist in Santiago. He was
exhibiting in the hotel where I was staying and I mentioned that I had a
magazine which had some translations of Cos Caussse poems in English and
he mentioned that he was a friend of his and that he would introduce me
to him. And that was my meeting of Cos Causse. In the process I
Rudy: Was there anything else of import that
occurred on this second trip?
Herbert: I visited the museum called
Casa del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba. This museum has different rooms
devoted to the major Afro-Cuban religions in Cuba. I found it quite
fascinating. These exhibits expose the transculturation of Catholicism and the
African religions. Catholicism has been Africanized in Cuba or
(what's the word?) syncretized.
Rudy: Then there was just recently the Nicolas Guillen
Centennial Conference. How did that happen and what made that important
Herbert: I attended this conference as a
delegate of the Kwame Toure Institute and Library. Hundreds attended--
Africans, Europeans , and Americans. This was a week-long
conference which included a number of scholars who had studied the life
and works of Guillen. there were scholars from all over the world who
either gave papers or were in attendance at the conference.
United States there was Robert Marquez, who has translated into English
several books by Nicolas Guillen. The Jamaican scholar Keith Ellis and
the noted Mexican scholar Monica Mansur. These scholars were among many others who attended this
the Guillen conference.
Rudy: So who headed your delegation?
Herbert: I don't know whether that person wants to be
known as the head. It is best to be said that the one who organized the
delegation was Bob Brown, who is the executive director of the Kwame
Toure Institute and Library. He used to be Kwame Toure's secretary or
Rudy: So how did the conference go. Were there moments
of excitement, disagreement, personal attacks?
Herbert: There were some extraordinary papers on
various topics of Guillen's life and works. I met the celebrated
national prize-wining poet Miguel Barnet. I was introduced to him by
Nancy Morejon, who is this year’s national prize for literature winner.
She is Afro Cuban. Her book
the Island Sleeps Like a Wing is an English translation of an earlier book.
Morejon was also the person who opened the conference. She is a noted
Guillen scholar. Guillen had been a mentor of Morejon.
A number of scholars were awarded plaques for their dedicated work
on Guillen life and works. Among them were Keith Ellis, University
of Toronto; Robert Marquez, Mount Holyoke College; Monica Mansour, National
University of Mexico; Jerome
Branch, U of Pittsburgh; including a number of Cuban scholars Nancy, such as Morojon.
All papers were read in Spanish.
Pedro Perez Sarduy translated and read the poems of Muhammad Toure
Rudy: You also met and talked to Pedro Perez Sarduy at the Nicolas Guillen
conference. How did you find this Cuban poet? Is he living there in
Herbert: I think Pedro Perez was visiting Cuba. I
think he lives in London. I have read his work. He has written several
informative anthologies on Afro-Cuban life and culture. He also has an
interesting website--AfroCuba Web.
Rudy: You made some interesting book purchases on this
Herbert: As a librarian, I am always in search of good
books. I purchased the first Spanish translation of The Souls of Black
Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. I picked up
de Cuba: Teatro en la calle and
In the Spirit of Wandering Teachers. The first is
pictorial book dealing with carnival in Cuba and the other is on the
literacy campaign in the early 60s after the triumph of the Revolution.
Rudy: I understand that you also had some
problems getting in and out of Cuba. You carried gifts for the people of
Herbert: On behalf of the Matanzas Sister City
Organization, I carried medical supplies to Cuba (ten to fifteen
pounds)--a set of supplies for Havana and one for the city of Matanzas.
I also acquired a scanner for one of the libraries. I was over the
weight limits and had to pay a considerable fee.
Because of the materials I carried and possibly the
flight I was on, It was very difficult getting into Cuba and getting
out. I was exhausted by the time I got back to Baltimore.
Rudy: Do you plan on going back to Cuba
soon or do you have other travels in mind?
Herbert: Well, tentatively, I am scheduled to do a
workshop on telephone reference service at the annual conference of the
Cuba Library Association. And I would also like the attend the
International Book Fair, which will be held in Havana next year. Now I
am on my way to attend a conference in Panama--The Afro-Latin-America
Rudy: Thanks. Your Cuba trips seemed to have
been wonderful and rewarding experiences. I regret I am afraid of flying.