July 30, 2014
Nicolás Guillén [Nicolás Guillén Batista] (Cuba)
Nicolás Guillén was born on July 10, 1902 in Camagüey, Cuba. As a young man, Guillén read widely, abandoning his law studies at the University of Havana in 1921 to concentrate on writing poetry. Born of mixed African and Spanish descent, the poet combined a knowledge of traditional literary from with firsthand experience of the speech, legends, songs, and sones (popular dances) of the Afro-Cubans in his first volume of poetry, Motivos de son (Motifs of Son) of 1930, which was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. The work also aligned him with the international Negritude movement.
In this same period, Guillén met U.S. poet Langston Hughes, and a warm relationship developed between the two, leading the Cuba poet to write and publish “A Conversation with Langston Hughes” and eight poems triggered by their friendship.
In the following years, Guillén became more outspoken politically, no longer interested with picturesque portrayals of daily life. In works such as Sóngoro consongo (1931) and West Indies Ltd. (1934), and Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas (1937), he began to decry the poor people’s oppression. In 1937 Guillén left for Spain to fight with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, which also resulted his collection España, also of 1937.
At the defeat of the Spanish Republic, Guillén returned to Cuba, joining the Communist Party, and speaking out for social and political reform. During this period he became recognized by many critics as one of the most influential of Latin American poets who dealt with African themes. He was arrested several times and was exiled from his homeland during the regime of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, becoming a ardent supporter of Fidel Castro’s 1959-based revolution.
Guillén served Castro as director of Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists. Throughout these years and later, he continued to treat themes of revolution and social protest in volumes of poetry such as La Paloma de vuelo Popular: Elegías (1958, The Dove of Popular Flight: Elegies) and Tengo (1964, I Have). A bilingual edition of his selected poems, Man-making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillén appeared in 1975.
He received the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954, the International Botey Prize in 1975, and Cuba’s National Prize for Literature in 1983.
Guillén died in Havana on July 16, 1989 of Parkinson’s Disease and complications.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Cerebro y Corazon (1926); Motivos de son (1930); Sóngoro cosongo: poemas mulatos (Havana: García y cía, 1931/Havana: La Verónica, 1942); West Indies Ltd. (Havana: Ucar, García y cía, 1934); España: poema en cuatro anguistias y una esperanza (Mexico City: Editorial Masas, 1937); Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas (México: Editorial lMéxico Nuevo, 1937); El son entero (Buenos Aires: Editorial Pleamer,1947); Elegías (1948-1958); Antologia poética (Rio de Janeiro: Leitura, 1961); Tengo (1964); Poemas de amor (1964); El gran zoo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Quetzal,1967/Madrid: Editorial Ciencia Nueva, 1969); Antologia mayor (Havana: Instituto del Libro, 1969); La rueda dentada (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Aristas de Cuba, 1972); El diario que a diario (1972); El corazón con que vivo (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1975); Por el mar de las Antillas anda un barco de papel; Poemas para niños y mayors de edad (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1977); Elegías (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1977); El diario que a diaro (Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1979); El libro de los sonetos (Havana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1984); En Algún Sitio de la Privavera: Elegía (1986)
.ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS
Selections in H. R. Hays, ed. 12 Spanish American Poets (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1943); Cuba libre: Poems (Los Angeles: Anderson and Ritchie, 1948); Patria o muerte!: The Great Zoo and Other Poems (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972); Tengo (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1974); Man-making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillén (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1972 / Havana: Editorial Arte y Literature, 1975); he Poetry of Nicolás Guillén (London: New Beacon Books, 1976); The Daily Daily (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); New Love Poetry: In Some Springtime Place: Elegy (Toronto: University of Tornoto Pess, 1994); Yoruba from Cuba: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillen (trans. Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres) (Leeds, United Kingdom: Peepal Tree Press, 2005)