Cuban-American author speaks on writing and exile

Hannah Curry, Staff writer

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Born in Cuba and immigrated to America, Achy Obejas shared stories of the relationships Cubans and Cuban-Americans, like herself, have with their homeland.

Obejas spoke to an audience of Linfield students and community members on March 1 in Ice Auditorium. As a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, a group that allows artists like Obejas to travel around college campuses for a week to speak, discuss, and educate, Obejas found her way to the small, liberal arts college in McMinnville, Oregon.

She has written and published a number of works, such as poetry, short story collections and novels, a few of which she had the opportunity to share at Linfield.

She started with two poems about Cuban life and exile. In her second piece, she shared her feelings about appropriation and being disenfranchised.

“I was reading over and over about the situation with the Palestinians,” Obejas said. “The whole notion of exile and return was so present.” She said that the idea for one of her poems “really came in a rush.”

She used ideas from other leaders, speakers and artists to explain her idea of exile to the audience. She included lines from well known songs, in English and Spanish, poems, and a speech President Barack Obama gave in her home town of Havana, “Sometimes big changes happen in small places.”

Obejas also read one of her short stories, “The Maldives,” from her book “The Tower of Antilles.” She recounted a time she visited America and was trying to make something of herself, but the main focus of the story was her dream to go the the Maldives.

Obejas started by saying that she had a brain tumor, but didn’t know it at the time. She compared her tumor to the rising sea level in the Maldives, “It’s growing about one centimeter a year.”

She also compared her symptoms of hearing loss to diving in the Maldives’ sea. She told the audience more about her life, such as her homosexuality and her Christian father’s repenting toward it. She said that she tried to save money for her family, and was determined to be away from her exiled life in Cuba.

“I was ready to be saved, not from homosexuality, but from Havana.”

After her reading, she answered questions from audience members about her work and her life as an author. She also explained her process as a writer.

“I try to write every day,” Obejas said. “That isn’t all creative time, I wish it were. It also involves a lot of business.”

A portion of her “writing time” is spent responding to editors, applying for grants, and various work related to being an author.

“I don’t have a specific page count when I write, and I don’t have a specific time,” Obejas said. She explained that it didn’t give her enough creative freedom to work, as she would too often focus on the page count or obey the time she gave to herself. She said that one thing that helps her focus on writing and writing only is to wake up at three or four in the morning to jot things down.
Obejas left the audience with a quote: “Live today like those who never went into exile,” a line from one of her poems, which describes her work as an author, as well as her life as a Cuban-American.

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Cuban-American author speaks on writing and exile