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Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

Emily A. Maguire

Publication Year: 2011

In the wake of independence from Spain in 1898, Cuba's intellectual avant-garde struggled to cast their country as a modern nation. They grappled with the challenges presented by the postcolonial situation in general and with the location of blackness within a narrative of Cuban-ness in particular.

In this breakthrough study, Emily Maguire examines how a cadre of writers reimagined the nation and re-valorized Afro-Cuban culture through a textual production that incorporated elements of the ethnographic with the literary. Singling out the work of Lydia Cabrera as emblematic of the experimentation with genre that characterized the age, Maguire constructs a series of counterpoints that place Cabrera's work in dialogue with that of her Cuban contemporaries--including Fernando Ortiz, Nicolas Guillen, and Alejo Carpentier. An illuminating final chapter on Cabrera and Zora Neale Hurston widens the scope to contextualize Cuban texts within a hemispheric movement to represent black culture.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

This book only exists thanks to the help of numerous individuals and institutions. I was able to conduct research for this project in Cuba and Miami thanks to a King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center Summer Travel Grant and a Tinker Field Research Grant. In Cuba, Alexander...

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Introduction: A Folklore for the Future: Race and National Narrative in Cuba

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pp. 1-28

In these lines from a 1935 poem entitled “Canción negra sin color” (Black Song without Color), Afro-Cuban poet Marcelino Arozarena captures the paradoxical treatment of black Cubans in Cuba (and Cuban literature) of the time. Black Cubans are present within the national space...

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1. Locating Afro-Cuban Religion: Fernando Ortiz and Lydia Cabrera

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pp. 29-62

When thinking of how Cubanness came to be defined, perhaps no voice is as consistently (and insistently) present as that of Fernando Ortiz. Ortiz was a public intellectual in the full sense of the term. Born into a well-to-do Creole family in Havana, he was raised in Cuba and Spain...

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2. Beyond Bongos in Montmartre: Lydia Cabrera and Alejo Carpentier Imagine Blackness

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pp. 63-103

“Tata Cuñengue, . . . simiente del Solar del Arará donde más de un nieto de capitanes generales fue a pedir que le confeccionaran un embó en tiempos de la colonia, vive ahora, con todo esplendor, en el mismo corazón de Montmartre” (“La Rue Fontaine” 295). [Papa Cuñengue, . . . founder...

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3. The National Art of Signifyin(g): Nicolás Guillén and Lydia Cabrera

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pp. 104-142

In his 1928 essay Indagación del choteo (Investigation of the Choteo), Cuban scholar Jorge Mañach analyzes a form of humorous wordplay known in Cuba as choteo. A kind of spontaneous burla (joking or poking fun), the choteo is fundamentally performative in nature, improvised wordplay...

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4. Gender, Genre, and Ethnographic Authority: Lydia Cabrera and Zora Neale Hurston

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pp. 143-172

In the previous chapters of this book, I have looked at the ways in which Cuban writers drew from different ethnographic and literary strategies to include ideas of blackness in their reimaginings of the nation. My intention has been to understand how Cuba’s particular postcolonial...

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Epilogue: Textual Straits: Race and Ethnographic Literature since the Cuban Revolution

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pp. 173-188

The overthrow of Cuban president and dictator Fulgencio Batista in January of 1959 and the triumph of the 26 of July Movement and its charismatic leader Fidel Castro initiated a radical restructuring of many aspects of Cuban society. Determined to do away with the systemic inequalities in...


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pp. 189-208

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 209-225


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pp. 227-237

About the Author

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p. 238

E-ISBN-13: 9780813040530
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813037479
Print-ISBN-10: 0813037476

Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757826421
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cuban literature -- History and criticism.
  • Ethnography -- Cuba.
  • Blacks -- Cuba -- Ethnic identity.
  • Identity (Philosophical concept) in literature.
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