Nicolas Guillen (1902-1989)

 

Nicolas Guillen was born (1902-1989) was an Afro-Cuban poet, writer, journalist, and social activist. 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 Afro-Cuban. 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. 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. 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.

 

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