Joanna’s Preliminary Thoughts on Cuba List

Posted by on Jul 13, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment



Some suggested items to read, view or contemplate before our Cuban adventure.


Any standard guidebook will be helpful, but I always fall back on Lonely Planet for good basic information plus in-depth history.

The Island of Cuba, by Alexander von Humboldt. The famous Prussian geographer, naturalist, explorer and linguist published this volume in 1856. I read an updated 2001 version published by Markus Weiner in Princeton and Ian Randle in Kingston, Jamaica. In addition to geographical climate, and agricultural information, von Humboldt gives devastating analyses of the production of sugar, race and slavery.

Ernest Hemingway. Not breaking news, but Hemingway slept here. He spent a lot of time in Cuba, especially from 1939-1960. Three books in particular highlight Hemingway’s Cuba: To Have and Have Not (1937); The Old Man and the Sea (1952) for which he won the Nobel Prize; and Islands in the Stream, published posthumously in 1970.

Dreaming in Cuban, by Christina García (1993). This first novel by the highly acclaimed writer takes place between 1972-1980, was a National Book Award nominee and tracks members of one Cuban family in the U.S and back in Cuba, with intertwining narratives and dashes of magical realism. She’s the author of several other books, no doubt worth reading, including King of Cuba (2013) about Castro.

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, by Carlos Eire (2003). This memoir by Yale Professor of Religion and Philosophy (and anti-Castroite) Carlos Eire has been called the Huckleberry Finn of Cuba, and won the National Book Award.

Two Poets:

Jose Martí, the renowned national poet and 19th century revolutionary is a hero in Cuba. You will see statues and tributes to him everywhere. To sample his work, I suggest going to the website and look for Marti’s “18 poems in translation.”

Nicolás Guillén was a famous 20th century poet who was highly influenced by Langston Hughes and a leader of the Afro-Cuban movement. He was also a journalist and social activist and his poetry has been characterized as the “immediate expression of Cuban life.” Man-Making Words: Selectd Poems of Nicolás Guillén, by Angel Aquier (2003).


The Buena Vista Social Club. It’s time to revisit this 1999 classic by Wim Wendez as Ry Cooter takes us to meet the fabulous musicians who will make us fall in love with Cuba and get us on the dance floor. Again.

Strawberry and Chocolate. This 1996 film, set in 1979, won many awards for its look at the LBGT community under Castro’s regime.

The Waiting List, 2000, is a story about a group of people in a rundown Havana bus station who connect with each other while waiting for a bus that never comes.

TV Series:

Four Seasons in Havana.* This excellent 2016 mini-series depicts four mysteries with Lieutenant Conde on the case. It does a great job showing what life in contemporary Havana  really looks like and has plenty of drama, great characters, sex, and explores subjects like corruption and homophobia. Available on Netflix.

  • Recommended by film director Robert Markowitz who will be a participant in our workshop, week #1.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this, Joanna. I love immersing myself in the culture through the literature. Richard Blanco is another poet. He was raised in the US by Cuban parents. He wrote the poem that was read at the re-opening of the American Embassy in Cuba.

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