ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes


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Guillen’s father introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was very young. His father, a journalist,

was assassinated by the Cuban government. As he and his brothers and sister finished school

in pre-revolutionary Cuba; they encountered the same racism black Americans lived with prior to the 1950’s.



   Books on Cuba

The Autobiography of a Slave  /  Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba Santeria from 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 Twentieth Century  


Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon   / Caliban and Other Essays   /   The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball


 Santeria Aesthetics in Contemporary Latin America Art   / Culture and 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 


 Nicolas Guillen: Popular Poet of the Caribbean   /    Selected Poetry by Nancy Morejon  /  Cuba: After the Revolution 

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Nicholas Guillén, Cuban Poet


Guillen: Man Making Words (1972) /  Songoro Consongo (1931) / Tengo (1964) / El gran zoo (1969)


Nicohlas Guillen was born on in 1902. He was an Afro-Cuban poet, writer, journalist, and social activist. From Camageuey, Cuba, he was the sixth child of Argelia Batista y Arrieta and Nicolas’ Guillen y Urra, both who were of mixed African-Spanish decent.

Guillen’s father introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was very young. His father, a journalist, was assassinated by the Cuban government. As he and his brothers and sister finished school in pre-revolutionary Cuba; they encountered the same racism black Americans lived with prior to the 1950’s. Guillen began writing about the social problems faced by blacks in the 1920, his first poems appeared in Camaguey Grafico in 1922.

This was followed by his first collection of poems, Cerebro y Corazon (Brain and Heart). In 1926, Guillen became a regular contributor to the Sunday literary supplement of Havana’s Diario de la Marina and in 1929 published El Camino en Harlem, an article that condemned Cuba’s racial structures. During the same year, Guillen interviewed Langston Hughes in Havana, he deeply admired Hughes and they became lifelong friends.

In 1930, he created an international stir with the publication of Motivios de son, eight short poems inspired by the Son, a popular Afro-Cuban musical form, and the daily living conditions of Cuban blacks. Composed in Afro-Cuban vernacular, the collection separated itself from with Spanish literary cannon and established black culture as a legitimate focus of Cuban literature. It was as if Guillen had touched on something that the people of Cuba could recognize as having been on the tips of their tongues waiting for Guillen to articulate it.

Like Hughes, he believed that black artists must be free to "express our individual dark-skinned selves without shame." Guillen was as much a political activist as a poet, in 1937 he traveled to Spain as a delegate to the Second International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture. In an address before the congress he condemned fascism and reaffirmed his black roots

In 1940, he ran for mayor of Camaguey and in 1948, Guillen was a senatorial candidate for the Cuban Communist Party; both campaigns were unsuccessful. He truly identified with the plight of blacks beyond his native Cuba, this is reflected in his Elegias (1958). Upon his return to Cuba in 1959, Fidel Castro awarded him the task of designing a new cultural policy and setting up the Union of Writers and Artist of Cuba, of which Guillen became president in 1961. During the next two decades, he wrote and published a number of collections of poetry including Tengo (1964), El gran Zoo (1967), La rueda dentada, and El diario que a diario (1972), and Sol de Domingo (1982). Guillen died in Havana in 1987.

Guillen: Man Making Words (1972) emphasizes the mature works of Guillen, one of an international group of poets of the African Diaspora, which includes Leopold Sedar Senghor and Aime Cesaire in the francophone literature, and Langston Hughes and Leroy Jones in the African-American tradition.

Like his contemporaries, Guillen combined modernist and surrealist influences on poetic form and content--including a valorization of "Africanity"--with revolutionary political engagement in the construction of a new society, one that comprised exposure of the social discrimination, prejudices, and poverty which plagued Africans of the Diaspora, and revindication of the beauty of Africaness--physically, linguistically, musically, and culturally.

In encouraging revolt against the existing order, Guillen encouraged Afro-Cubans to pride of race and place. By connecting this revolt to International Socialism he wove a cosmopolitan interconnectedness for an otherwise disenfranchised people. Rooting this interconnectedness in the rivers, bars, cities, regions, and heroes of Cuba, Guillen created a new vision of Cuban culture on which to ground social and political change.

In encouraging revolt against the existing order, Guillen encouraged Afro-Cubans to pride of race and place. By connecting this revolt to International Socialism he wove a cosmopolitan interconnectedness for an otherwise disenfranchised people. Rooting this interconnectedness in the rivers, bars, cities, regions, and heroes of Cuba, Guillen created a new vision of Cuban culture on which to ground social and political change.

In these selected works of the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen--ranging from his early sound experiments through his more overtly political poetry to his final works--the Afro-Cuban experience of everyday life and its socio-historical and contemporary political underpinnings are constants. From slavery on to the natural and urban settings of Cuba, to the international places and communities of poets, politicians and activists shaping contemporary Cuban life, to the twinned invasions of Cuba by soldiers and tourists, and to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Guillen portrays a life where everything, including love, is colored by suffering and rebellion 

Like the other poets of revolutionary decolonization Guillen pointed the way to constructivist postmodernism and planted the seeds of contemporary postcolonialism. His poetry is thus an important page in the literary theorization of these movements.

Translated and annotated with introduction by Robert Marquez and David Arthur McMurray. Original titles and dates of Guillen's publications (in Spanish): Primeros Poemas 1920-1930 (1930), Motivos de son (1930), Songoro Consongo (1931), West Indies Ltd. (1934), Cantos para Soldados (1937), Sones para Turistas (1937), Espana (1937), El Son Entero (1947), Elegias (1958), La Paloma de Vuelo Popular (1958), Tengo (1964), Poemas de Amor (1964), El gran zoo (1969).

Univ. of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, Mass.,1972)

Sources:  and

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Che’s Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image (2009)

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Illustrated. 388 pages. Vintage Books. $15.95

Casey, Buenos Aires bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires, tap dances across history— and the globe to examine intellectual property and iconography through the lens of the famous image of Che Guevara captured by fashion photographer Alberto Korda. Some say that only the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt rising as she stands over a subway grate, has been more reproduced, writes Casey. The author does not neglect the relevant biographical details or history, but his focus is Che as a brand. He wants to understand why the Korda image remains so compelling to such a wide variety of people and how it continues to represent so many different (and differing) causes; he suggests that the power of Che, the brand, is in its ability to be anything to anyone. The book can feel like a disorderly amalgam of travelogue, visual criticism, biography and reportage—fragments befitting a study of globalized culture. Readers interested in the impact of visual culture or in better understanding the elusiveness of intellectual property rights, particularly in a global marketplace, will find much food for thought. Publishers Weekly    Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War

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By Jim Rasenberger

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 15 April 2012




Home   Inside the Caribbean 

Related files:   The Quest for the Cuban Christ  Table of Contents  Foreword   Santeria The Beliefs and Rituals  Ajiaco Christianity   Fidel My Early Years  Fidel Bio  Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War 

Jimmy Carter on Cuban-American Relations  Cuba Photo-Exhibit    Herbert Rogers on Cuba  Cuban BookList  Nicohola Guillen  Ajiaco Christianity  Santeria The Beliefs and Rituals     The Quest for the Cuban Christ