Camagüey people have had special relevance in the arts from the times of the conquest and colonization of Cuba to the present day. Camagüey literature deserves a particular distinction: the performance of the Camagüey authors has been so outstanding that not a few intend to achieve recognition for the province as the Cradle of Literature in Cuba. Keep reading and find out who the main literary figures of Camagüey and their masterpieces have been. Read more...
The first work: Espejo de Paciencia
On Wednesday June 30 on the distant year of 1563, Silvestre de Balboa Troya Quesada was baptized in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; he who would eventually become a clerk of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe (now Camagüey). There he would marry Catalina de la Coba y Consuegra, with whom he would have six children, one of whom would become a cleric in that settlement.
Precisely at the time when Troya Quesada was a clerk of the Villa, he wrote what is considered to be the first literary work written on Cuban soil, the epic poem Espejo de Paciencia. Signed on July 30, 1608, the poem is accompanied by six laudatory sonnets, written by an equal number of residents of the town, in what could be classified as the genesis of cultural life on the Island.
Espejo de Paciencia is composed of 1213 verses in royal octaves and broken down into two songs and a motet, and although the original is not preserved today, it is known that it was copied by the then bishop of Cuba, Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz, who made a pastoral visit to the city in the second half of the 18th century. Later, in 1837, it was published for the first time in the Aguinaldo Habanero, although it was not until 1927 that it was published completely, in the Cuban Bibliography of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The work is inspired by the abduction of the bishop of the Island of Cuba, Juan de las Cabezas Altamirano, carried out by the French privateer Gilberto Girón in the port of Manzanillo and tells how Gregorio Ramos, from Bayamo and a battalion of residents of the area, killed the outlaw, thus avenging the aforementioned kidnapping.
Considered the only epic poem written in Cuba, by 1942 there were two copies, according to Felipe Pichardo Moya, who prefaced the edition published that year by the Ministry of Education and who even found information on the six sonnets that precede the poem.
In an edition carried out by the Arte y Literatura publishing house in 1975, Cintio Vitier evidenced the disappearance of all probable copies and on Silvestre de Balboa's work he pointed out:
[…] It is permeated by a morning beach light and an aroma of Cuban fruits… Fate wanted it to be not another work but a poem of dawn light, the visible root of the tree of Cuban literature.
There is no probative document of the date of death of Troya Quesada, although the last document that remains of him is a life certificate, signed in Port-au-Prince on July 15, 1641. A plaque in his birthplace in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria indicates it in 1649, but documents found suggest that it could have occurred between 1643 and 1644.
The only one of its kind in Cuba, a plaque unveiled in the city of Camagüey on October 20, 2010 in the area surrounding his residence in the old town of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, honors his memory and that of the poem Espejo de paciencia.
Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda: The great lady of Cuban literature in the 19th century
Born on March 23, 1814 in Puerto Príncipe, current Camagüey, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, also known as "Tula" or "La Peregrina", a pseudonym she used to sign her works, was a prominent poet, representative of the Cuban romantic movement, defender of the social role of women and precursor of the antislavery novel, with her renowned Sab. He also wrote theatrical pieces of unequaled quality, attesting to the good reception of the specialized critics and other playwrights and the resounding acceptance of the public, among these it is worth mentioning Flavio Recaredo, Baltasar, Saúl, Oráculos de Talía, La hija de las flowers, The truth conquers appearances and Sympathy and antipathy.
Her narrative work also shows outstanding values, such as the aforementioned Sab, Dos mujeres and Guatimozin, the last emperor of Mexico. Likewise, Avellaneda stood out in journalistic work, in which she carried out her highest work in the functions of founder, director and main editor of the literary magazine Álbum Cubano de lo Bueno y lo Bello, a publication that defends feminine ideas and strong support for journalistic work carried out by women.
In 1836 he moved with his family to Spain, ending up settling in La Coruña. It is precisely at the moment in which he leaves the Island, when he writes the famous sonnet of his As Leaving, a deep and moving song inspired by the feelings that caused him to leave the country. Later he decides to settle in Seville and it is there that he publishes his first works, all under his pseudonym La Peregrina. In June 1840 he premiered his first theatrical work, Leoncia, well received by critics and the public in that Andalusian city. It is during those years that she meets Ignacio de Cepeda, with whom La Tula lived a fiery love affair all her life, despite the fact that he never corresponded with the same intensity, and that is a reflection of her in her literature.
That same year she moved to Madrid where she began the stage considered the most fertile of her literary life. In the Spanish capital she publishes the book Poesías de ella (1841) and the novels Sab (1841); Two women (1842-1843); Espatolino (1844) and Guatimozín (1845). During that stage she was related to great representatives of the letters of that time, such as José Zorilla, Alberto Lista, Juan Nicasio Gallego, Manuel Quintana, Bernardino Fernández de Velasco, Nicomedes Pastor Díaz, Francisco de Paula and Mellado, among others. In those years she had an intimate relationship with the poet Gabriel García Tassara, with whom she had a daughter born in April 1845 and who died seven months later.
The following year she married the civil governor of Madrid, Pedro Sebater, but shortly afterwards he died due to a larynx affection and she, Gertrudis, confined herself to the convent of Our Lady of Loreto in Bordeaux.
Recovered from the painful losses of her daughter and her husband, she returns to the Spanish capital and between 1849 and 1853, she premieres seven dramatic works: Saúl (1849), a biblical tragedy warmly welcomed by the public; Flavio Recaredo (1851); The truth conquers appearances (1852); Errors of the heart (1852); The donation of the devil (1852); The daughter of the flowers (1852) and The Adventurer (1853). On the other hand, she reissues her Poetry (1851) and publishes an account of the historical theme Dolores. Pages of a family chronicle. In the same way, two legends appear in the Spanish Picturesque Weekly, namely, La velada del helecho (1849) and La Montaña maldita (1851). In 1853 she was denied admission to the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language, due to her rebellious nature and her defense of feminist ideals.
Later he wrote several legends that he would later collect in his literary works and premiered various theatrical works: Sympathy and antipathy (1855), The daughter of King René (1855), Oracles of Thalia or the palace elves (1855), The three loves ( 1858) and Baltasar (1858), one of his best dramatic pieces.
This profuse literary production is interrupted when Domingo Verdugo y Massieu, colonel and deputy to the Cortes, whom he had married in 1855, falls seriously wounded in a dispute originated, precisely, as a result of the premiere of Los tres amores. The following year they moved to Cuba, where the ailing colonel died in 1863, precisely as a result of that wound.
During her stay in Cuba, she continued her active cultural life and directed, in 1860, the magazine El Álbum Cubano where she published, in addition to her legends The Damned Mountain, La dama de Amboto and La flor del angel, her disputed articles on the woman. On January 27 of that year, she received a heartfelt tribute in the Cuban capital, crowning her with laurels. This is how it is represented in her sculpture that was unveiled about her in the city of Camagüey; The work of a sculptor from Matanzas, the piece is located at the intersection of Avellaneda and General Gómez streets, as an imperishable tribute of the people of Camagüey to its greatest poet, novelist and playwright.
After her husband died, La Peregrina returned to the metropolis and devoted herself practically exclusively to correcting her works and preparing the complete edition of them, Literary, Dramatic and Poetic Works (1869-1871). She died in Madrid, on February 1, 1873.
Nicolás Guillén: The National Poet
Nicolás Guillén was born in the city of Camagüey at the beginning of the century in 1902 and is considered the highest representative of Central American so-called "black poetry" and one of the main figures of Cuban culture.
Guillén enrolled at the University of Havana, but only completed one year of law, then abandoning his studies and returning to his hometown, where he worked as a printer and dedicated himself to journalism in the editorial office of El Camagüeyano, in whose pages he also began his literary activity.
From 1925 Nicolás Guillén settled permanently in the capital and began to take an active part in the cultural and political life of protest, which led to arrests and periods of exile. By 1937 he had already published the first three of his books and joined the Communist Party of Cuba, founded by his friend and his poet Rubén Martínez Ville.
Great authors of Camagüey in the stage of the Revolution
Died in a car accident when he organized the First National Meeting of Poets in 1960, which would later become the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, Rolando Escardó founded the group Los Nuevos in Camagüey, which published a selection of verses by José Martí in 1953 and in 1958 he formed the Yarabey group. Several of his poems were published in the magazines Cyclone and Monday of Revolution.
Escardó's life was short, he lived only around thirty-five years and after his death Ediciones Revolución published, in 1962, the “Libro de Rolando”, a compilation of his poetic work, which featured a luxurious prologue by of the prestigious Cuban intellectual Virgilio Piñera.
Graduated with a degree in Social Sciences in 1976, Luis Suardíaz served as provincial coordinator of Culture, general director of Literature, Publications and Editorials of the defunct National Council of Culture, and executive member of the National Editorial of Cuba (directed by Alejo Carpentier). In addition, he served as director of the "José Martí" National Library and the National Network of Public Libraries and was first vice president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).
As part of his close bond with journalism, he served as deputy director general of Prensa Latina and editor-in-chief of Culture and History of Bohemia magazine. Likewise, he directed the newspaper Orientación Revolucionaria, in Camagüey, and the magazines Pueblo y Cultura, Prisma Latinoamericano, Cuba Internacional, the cultural supplement Patria of the Granma newspaper, and was a member of the board of directors of that newspaper.
He was also director of the Political Editor, member of the editorial board of Union magazine and of the advisory board of Tricontinental Magazine and cultural advisor at Expo-67 in the city of Montreal, Canada, and in the Soviet Union. He collaborated, in the same way, in numerous publications in Latin America and some European countries and in most of the Cuban ones.
His poems, chronicles, essays, and prologues are found in more than twenty languages and in various anthologies, magazines, and newspapers. He obtained the José A. Fernández de Castro Cultural Journalism Award.
Luis Eduardo Rafael Álvarez Álvarez, born in Camagüey in 1951, is undoubtedly one of the most relevant contemporary intellectuals. Graduated from the BA in Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Havana in 1975, he is a renowned poet, literary critic and researcher. He is a Doctor of Philological Sciences (1989) and a Doctor of Science (2001), both from the University of Havana, where he worked for several years. He has been distinguished with the National Literature Prize (2017) and is an honorary member of the Nicolás Guillén Foundation (2019).
First time in Camagüey
If one delves into the history of Camagüey literature, one discovers everything that this territory has contributed over the years to this artistic manifestation in Cuba.
Without a doubt, it is essential to start with the first work written on the island, the epic poem Espejo de Paciencia, by the canary living in Puerto Príncipe Silvestre de Balboa Troya y Quesada.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Camagüey was the third island city that had a printing press, that of the Territorial Court. This event occurred in 1812 and the establishment was owned by Mariano Seguí de los Olivos. The 2 cities that preceded it were Havana, in 1723, and Santiago de Cuba, in 1762.
El Judío Errante (The Wandering Jew) was the title of the first book printed in Puerto Príncipe in 1846 and the first anti-slavery Cuban literary work was “Sab”, the creation of the distinguished poet and playwright Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. This novel was published in 1841, although La Tula had already finished it by 1838.
Precisely La Avellaneda, was the name of one of the first libraries founded by the workers in this city. The cultural institution was inaugurated on January 29, 1902 at the initiative of the Camagüey Workers' Circle.
Antenor Lezcano Noy from Camagüey has the merit of having written the text Crime Against Humanity, which was the first printed work dedicated to the memory of the 8 medical students, shot by Spanish colonialism and which saw the light in Veracruz, Mexico , on December 20, 1871.
A man from Camaguey, the National Poet Nicolás Guillén Batista, was the recipient of the first National Prize for Literature, which was awarded in a ceremony held on December 23, 1983. It was not until 2017 that another local would be invested with that award, this time it was Luis Álvarez Álvarez.
Every year the bookstores and public spaces of Camagüey host the International Book Fair, the largest literary event in the country.
Librería Antonio Suárez
Maceo No.7 e/ General Gómez y Plaza Maceo
Librería La Cultural
General Gómez No.67 e/ República y Apodaca
Librería Mariana Grajales
República No.300 e/ San Esteban y Callejón de Magdalena
Librería-Ateneo Viet Nam
República No.416 e/ San Martín y Correa
Librería Severo Sarduy
Avenida de la Libertad No.81 e/ Sifontes y Alonso Fruto