Kevin Gerry Dunn

Kevin Dunn

Photo by Lizzie Davis


Kevin Gerry Dunn is a ghostwriter and Spanish/English translator whose book-length projects include Countersexual Manifesto by Paul B. Preciado; Easy Reading by Cristina Morales, for which he received an English PEN Award and a PEN/Heim Grant; The Tyranny of Flies by Elaine Vilar Madruga, for which he received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; and works by María Bastarós, Daniela Tarazona, Ousman Umar, Paco Cerdà, and Javier Castillo. His short literary translations have appeared in Granta, Financial Times, South Atlantic Quarterly, Latin American Literature Today, and Michigan Quarterly Review, and his translations of critical art texts have appeared in exhibitions at the U.S. National Gallery of Art, the Prado Museum, the Vatican Museums, the Vienna Kunsthalle, the Phillips Collection, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. He teaches translation part-time at Lake Forest College and has received residencies at Banff Literary Translation Centre (Canada) and Translation House Looren (Switzerland).

Project Description

To support the translation from the Spanish of the novel The Tyranny of Flies by Cuban author Elaine Vilar Madruga. The Tyranny of Flies is surreal, dystopic, and offers an allegorical reading of Cuba's political climate and an examination of how authority, resistance, and repression can infiltrate the domestic space. Set on an unnamed but Cuba-like Caribbean island that has long been under the rule of an ironfisted dictator named Pop-Pop Mustache, the book shifts between a third person omniscient narrator and members of a dysfunctional, abusive, neurotic family. The novel has become a commercial success in Latin America and Spain.

I’m elated to receive this fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the translation of Elaine Vilar Madruga’s masterful dark comedy The Tyranny of Flies. I don’t know if reading world literature will save us from the current global dumpster fire—in fact, I’m sure it won’t—but one thing literary translators can do is make sure that our literary potluck brunch includes not just (delicious but ubiquitous) pancakes and mimosas, but also pastelitos de guayaba, nalysnyky, and tamriyeh nabulsieh.

The Three Percent Database, which catalogs all English-language translations published in the U.S., gives insight into just how unvaried our current brunch offerings are. Sweden’s population is slightly smaller than Cuba’s, but in the past two years, 35 Swedish books have been published in English translation in the United States, compared to only four Cuban books, all of which were written by men.

We aren’t nearly as upset about this as we should be. Cuba, a nation whose culture is inextricably bound to the U.S.’s, is virtually unread by its neighbor 90 nautical miles north. This is doubly tragic when you consider that Cuba has one of the world’s most varied and vibrant literary scenes: the homeland of José Martí has a literacy rate of 99.71 percent, one of the world’s highest, compared to Florida’s 80.3 percent. But the Anglophonic, Anglocentric publishing apparatus has erected a de-facto embargo against Cuban literature.

This is obviously the product of many forms of bias, one of which is lack of institutional support. Sweden can offer robust funding for translations abroad, whereas Cuba cannot.

Which is even more reason to celebrate the NEA’s decision to support the translation of an essential work by one of the island’s greatest contemporary authors. I hope that Elaine’s novel will entice readers in the U.S., as it has in the Spanish-speaking world, and cultivate an appetite for Cuban literature so strong that publishers can’t ignore it.

For me, the opportunity to translate Elaine’s pointed, hilarious, iconoclastic allegory is an unbelievable gift. I know I couldn’t have received this fellowship without several metric tons of luck and privilege or without the camaraderie of beloved friends in the translation community. I’m grateful to be at this potluck with you, tasting pastries and swapping recipes.

About Elaine Vilar Madruga

Elaine Vilar Madruga (Havana, 1989) is a playwright, novelist, and poet who has published over 30 books, mostly (but not exclusively) works of feminist science fiction, none of which have appeared in English despite her being considered one of Cuba's foremost literary voices. She has received many awards and her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. The Tyranny of Flies is her first work to receive widespread attention elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world.