Mark Schafer

Mark Schafer

Photo by Yvon Augustin


Mark Schafer is a literary translator, a visual artist, and a teacher. His recent translations include Stay This Day and Night with Me, a novel by Belén Gopegui, and Migrations: Poem, 1976–2020, his translation of Gloria Gervitz’s poetic life’s work. Schafer also edited and translated the anthology of the poetry of David Huerta, Before Saying Any of the Great Words: Selected Poems. A recipient of numerous honors, including three National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowships and a Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland for his Gervitz translation, Schafer is a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches Spanish. He is currently translating Huerta’s 2018 book of prose poetry, El ovillo y la brisa, and in 2024, thanks to the National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship, will translate into English 24 previously untranslated short stories by the Cuban author Virgilio Piñera.

Project Description

To support the translation from the Spanish of a short story collection by Cuban author Virgilio Piñera. This collection will consist of 24 previously untranslated short stories that will represent works from the full span of his writing life and will feature his characteristic narratives that are often absurd, shocking, grotesque, and disturbing.

This Translation Fellowship means that, after 36 years, I can finally finish the job I started back in the mid-1980s of making the Cuban author Virgilio Piñera’s short fiction available to English-speaking readers. I became a translator by translating Piñera’s fiction in college, captivated by his masterful and disturbing style, delighted by the challenge of trying to do in English what he had done in Spanish, eager to strengthen and expand the bridges I had begun to build between the English-speaking world I’d grown up in and the Spanish-speaking world I was starting to inhabit, and frustrated that I couldn’t share Piñera’s stunning work with my friends and family because no English-language translations existed.

Translating that first collection of Piñera’s short stories, published in 1988 as Cold Tales, was the start of my ever-growing relationship with the vast body of literature written in Spanish and of my career as a literary translator. This early career was solidified by the National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowships I received in 1993 to translate short stories by Jesús Gardea and in 2005 to translate poetry of David Huerta, both of them from Mexico. Though I’ve translated poetry, fiction, and non-fiction from around the Spanish-speaking world, and my translation work increasingly focused on writing from Mexico, Cuba never faded from my heart and mind. In fact, I never forgot the three pendientes (unfinished pieces of business) I’ve had for decades with Piñera’s work: to translate the dozens of his stories published posthumously just before and after Cold Tales appeared; to republish a revised edition of René’s Flesh, my long-out-of-print translation of Piñera’s only full-length novel, that reflected the corrected edition in Spanish overseen by Piñera’s literary executor and published after my translation appeared; and to republish a thoroughly revised edition of Cold Tales, my very first translation, also out of print for decades.

While the challenges of carving out the time, finding the mental and physical space, and getting the external validation (and deadline) I needed to (re)engage with project like this one pale in comparison to the lifetime of marginalization and oppression Piñera experienced as an outspoken, non-conforming, out gay man living through much of the 20th century, it was the NEA’s recognition and support of this project that finally brought this project to life. And while my application simply proposed to translate 24 stories by Piñera into English, my secret agenda was to leverage such a fellowship to convince a publisher to publish not only these stories but the other two pendientes as well. I am thrilled to report that, shortly after I received word that I’d received this Fellowship, a major U.S. publisher of literary translations agreed to do just that. Piñera, his literary legacy, and readers throughout the U.S. and the English-speaking world at large deserve no less.

About Virgilio Piñera

Virgilio Piñera, born in 1912 into a poor family in the Matanzas province, was an anti-conformist who explored his queer identity in his writing. One of the 20th century’s most widely read Cuban authors, Piñera is considered by critics to be one of the great masters of modern Cuban letters,  and his impact on Caribbean and Latin American letters and his significance for Latinx authors in the U.S., LGBTQ authors in particular, cannot be understated. His fiction, a frontal assault on the Latin American literary canon and its Western foundations of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and the primacy of mind over body, is literature written from the margins of power. As Antón Arrufat wrote, Piñera’s fiction is “the other face of Latin American literature”. He was awarded Cuba's highest literary award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, in 1968. Piñera was silenced by the Cuban government in 1971 and wasn’t published again until years after his death in 1979. For these many reasons, Piñera’s fiction has yet to reach the wide readership it deserves—especially in English. This translation project aims to change that.