NEA Literature Fellowships

Sara E. Cooper

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(2013 - Translation)

from Daontaon by Mirta Yáñez

[translated from Spanish]

Daontaon was having a bad day. Her morning had been rather hectic, without even taking into account that by now, just as she left the house, she had a hell of a fight with the lady who rented the bottom floor. On top of that, Micaela refused to let her in, much less share a cup of coffee. And to think that she had gone expressly to tell her that amazing dream she had had about the Titanic and its shaggy millionaires. What a building she lived in, for god's sake. She tried at any cost to be gentile, to keep herself apart, but seriously, the hoi polloi of that neighborhood would try the patience of the Virgin Mary herself. Drunks, kids covered in lice, mental retards, crazy old ladies, mangy dogs, sexual perverts, bad-mannered louts, ragamuffins, delinquents, scum, although not her of course, she was the public face of Havana "Culture" and deserved to be treated as such.

But don't think that working in the "Culture" sector was a piece of cake. As soon as she got to her office, without so much as a snack or anything, she would have to make like ten million phone calls to organize a funeral service. The deceased, according to Daontaon's not too humble opinion, was one of those types of which there were way too many in the world (and a beardless wonder, moreover), who had considered himself an "author of geriatric verse", whatever that was, and had died very inconveniently in the middle of the night. Since the baby-faced poet came from the rural interior, there was nobody who could take care of all the details, so the mangy cur ended up in her lap. Of course, who would want to "take care of the dead guy," literally speaking, his colleagues in the Literary Workshops? Ha. Not one. In the unlikely case that there was a single one of them not sleeping off a hangover, Daontaon doubted very much that he would feel like taking on such a task. Oh yes, you couldn't get free of them if there was a bottle of rum, or if a new poetess still in diapers showed up. Then they'd all come running like a bunch of lunatics, but… to take care of this dead guy from the boondocks? Ha. Daontaon was completely opposed to those people who came from "the countryside" to pile on top of one another in Havana, she herself had done the same years ago, so she knew very well how they thought, they started infiltrating little by little, they'd get married to some shameless hussy (or even worse, hook up with some queen), and there they'd be, installed in their very own apartment in Alamar, just like hers. That's why Daontaon hated the very sight of them. This one, the deceased, started out writing children's books back where he was born, and since the field was overly saturated, he had the darling idea of writing poetry for the elderly. Poetry for the "Third Generation," please! People started citing them in public, a pile of old decrepit men like he was. They even had published a few of his things in that new creation, the "chapbook". What you see and hear these days is beyond belief. Well the guy weaseled his way in, an ode here, a minor prize from some godforsaken town in Spain, an appearance in a "poet's convention" for Latin Americans, where besides the usual suspects, the "Whisky Cooperative", there was one dude from Finland due to a clerical error and three Argentines (who of course would have followed protocol perfectly), and that's it, period. The dead guy had achieved what was referred to in the "Culture" sector as a little name for himself.

Daontaon often felt the need to speak with a good measure of quotation marks, italics, and punctuation marks.

Excerpt in Spanish

About Mirta Yáñez

Mirta Yáñez is a four-time winner of the highest literary award in Cuba, the Premio de la Crítica (Critics' Prize), most recently for Sangra por la herida, being translated as The Bleeding Wound. Author of more than 20 books, translated into five languages, Yáñez is being hailed for her excavation of the memories of her generation -- those idealistic youth who wholeheartedly took up Fidel Castro's challenge to bring a new ethic and aesthetic to Cuba. Her often noted genius for capturing the nuances of Cuban expression finds its epitome in this novel, whose ten narrator/protagonists portray the vastly different backgrounds, voices, and destinies of her revolutionary cohort.

Sara E. Cooper (PhD University of Texas, 1999) is Professor of Spanish at California State University, Chico. She teaches Spanish, Latin American and Latina/o cultural production and LGBTQ Studies. She coordinates a newly formed Gender & Sexuality General Education Pathway. She is the founder of a new press, Cubanabooks, to publish Cuban women writers in translation, through which she has edited three books of Cuban short fiction. Cooper is the translator of Burnt Honey–a novel by Chicano Antonio Arreguín Bermúdez and co-translator of Havana is a Really Big City by Cuban Mirta Yáñez. In addition to being the editor of two scholarly books, Cooper has articles appearing in several journals and anthologies, including Letras femeninas, Chasqui, Confluencia, Cuban Studies, Kunapipi, A Changing Cuba in a Changing World, and Tortilleras: Hispanic and Latina Lesbian Expression.

Photo by Sandra E. Beck

Translator's Statement

No sooner do I towel off the tepid drops from an early bath when the usual sheen of sweat bursts out of my pores: my skin vainly seeks any cooling movement of the air. Awaiting me downstairs is an ounce of strong, bitter coffee, thick with sugar, as well as the yeasty course roll of my friend's daily ration, which she gladly gives up in favor of a glass of lumpy home-cultured plain yogurt acquired on the grey market. Contemplating the dusty walk to the bus stop, the inevitable cynical banter with neighbors about the long wait and the cramped quarters of the bus that will bump us through the bay tunnel into Havana, I shift my thoughts to the purpose of the outing. A reading from Mirta's new book, sure to be attended by a score of highly educated and outspoken women, who will fill the afternoon torpor with spirited analysis and witty arguments about the bleak reality laid out with wry humor in the pages of her novel. This is the reality that I must capture, not only the words of the author but also the context so unimaginable to the vast majority of U.S. readers. To do so I must immerse myself, return in my mind to the baking asphalt and the startling abundance of framboyán blossoms, to the complexities and paradoxes that are Cuba. This takes time. Calm. Freedom from the mundane stressors of university life. So what a gift is this grant from the NEA, which pays a dear colleague to teach two of my four courses, leaving me with two days a week when I can hole myself up and let the sweat trickle through my brain, a moistly uncomfortable necessity if I want to get this right. And I do, more than anything, want to bring this writer into the light, transport my compatriots to the forbidden Caribbean shores, build bridges of understanding between our countries. Thank you, NEA; and readers, get ready to move out of your comfort zone, transgress the travel embargo, and get intimate with today's Cuba.