Lessons from my event with Cuban sci-fi writers and translators

cuba-science fiction

On Wednesday, I joined a group of stellar writers and translators to discuss Cuban science fiction at the Bronx Museum. We covered a lot of ground over the two hour discussion, which finished off with a sumptuous meal of empanadas, wine, and beer. Here are some takeaways:

  1. Cuban science fiction is a mature and fascinating field. According to scholar Yasmín S. Portales-Machado, the genre has gone through several waves in Cuba, which began in the 1950s with pulp fiction and carried over into the 1960s before being crushed in a cultural clampdown in the 70s. Writers re-emerged in the 80s to begin pushing forward the genre again. We’re now in a golden era of writing with authors such as Yoss and Erick J. Mota, among many others.
  2. Many Cuban science fiction writers are deeply trained in science. A quick scan of the biographies of the authors in Words Without Borders’ May issue reveals that several authors studied physics or biology. In my opinion, this has led to sci-fi literature that is both lyrical and technical — an extraordinary mix that is rarely seen.
  3. Cuban artists are concerned about copyright. Authors have benefited from being able to read and watch sci-fi content at very affordable prices, giving them access to the latest explorations in the genre. (An expensive book costs $3, and the current government salary is $20 per month.) If copyright sharks swarm in and start cracking down on file sharing and piracy, there’s a risk that authors may be isolated in the short term from great content. Maybe publishers could promote Creative Commons licensing in the meanwhile as a stop-gap measure.
  4. It’s still not easy for Cuban authors to travel to the U.S. The visas of Yoss and Erick J. Mota were delayed by the U.S. embassy in Cuba, and they were only able to visit the U.S. after our event. This is unacceptable and violates their right to seek, receive, and impart ideas — a cornerstone of free expression. The U.S. needs to step it up.

Thanks to Esther Allen, Hillary Gulley, Yasmín S. Portales-Machado, and Karen Phillips for a lively discussion.

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