Can you guess who was on prime-time news in Cuba?

Anita’s Revolution presentation at Havana International Book Fair in February 2016

On February 18th, the translated edition of my book, Anita’s Revolution was launched before a standing room only crowd of Cubans at the International Book Fair in Havana. It was a dynamic presentation. I was introduced by the Director of the Literacy Campaign Museum, Luisa Campos Gallardo, who gave a really perceptive talk on some of the book’s highlights. The publisher, Gente Nueva, sold many copies of the book, titled Anita La Brigadista in Spanish. I signed books until cramps in my hand prevented me from signing more. An excerpt from my presentation was shown on Cuba’s prime-time news at 8 pm, again at 11 pm, then again the next morning at 11 am. All very exciting!

A few days later (on my birthday, actually), Madam Campos Gallardo arranged another presentation at the Literacy Campaign Museum. Many of those attending were now elderly “brigadistas”, those young volunteer literacy teachers of 1961, the heroes described in my book. Many recounted their remarkable experiences teaching Cuba’s then illiterate people during the campaign. All were thrilled to have their contribution to Cuba’s history celebrated in a novel. Everyone wanted to know how come it happened that a Canadian wrote their story. I told them it was because the story of Cuba’s literacy campaign with youth at the centre of it is so remarkable, I wanted the world to know about it.

Again, it was a lively encounter. Cubans are so outgoing and lively themselves. Everyone was served a demi-tasse cup of real Cuban espresso coffee, and Surprise! my birthday was celebrated by all present with a real birthday cake. Viva Cuba! and the Cuban people.

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Anita’s Revolution goes to the printer again–this time in Spanish

Anita’s Revolution, my book about Cuba’s remarkable literacy campaign in 1961, will make its appearance in Spanish in February 2016 at Cuba’s International Book Fair. Of course I have been invited to attend, so I will be there (with bells on!) for the book launch at the fair. The title in Spanish will be “Anita La Brigadista”.

If any of you plan to vacation in Cuba in February, you might think of attending the book fair, which is Cuba’s biggest cultural event. Here’s some information about it.

Cuba’s Book Fair in 2016 will take place in Havana from February 11th-February 21st. Each year, the fair shines a spotlight on the literary history of certain countries; this year it’s Uruguay and India. The principal venue in Havana is the grounds and buildings of the historic Fortification of San Carlos, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. In addition to the hundreds of publishers and book exhibits, there will be featured book and author related presentations as well as artistic events. One of those presentations will honour the 130th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Cuba.

The fair is a colourful annual event that attracts tens of thousands of Cubans hungry for books to read, hungry to access the outside world via its literature. In addition to the opportunity to acquire books not available in Cuban stores, Cubans also scramble for the free promotional “merch” that is part of every book fair. For the visitors to Cuba who join the throng, the “scene” at Cuba’s International Book Fair is as interesting as the exhibits and books themselves. The 2014 fair saw over 2000 titles on sale with around 260 writers and intellectuals, 140 editors, 80 Cuban, 60 international, from 41 countries actively involved. A massive 2.5 million books were published. Considered the premier cultural event in Cuba, visitors to the fair numbered 387,000 in Havana alone.

If you have Spanish-speaking friends, please tell them about my book. If they are interested in acquiring a copy, they can contact me via the comment section on this site.

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Cuba’s Annual International Book Fair Coming Up

Anyone planning to be in Havana Cuba in February 2016? If so, may I suggest you take in two things in addition to the pleasures of sun, beach life, mojitos and touring Old Havana to enjoy the fabulous architecture of this UNESCO designated World Heritage Site.

Cubans are hungry for new books to read, so they throng by the thousands to the annual International Book Fair in Havana. It will take place from February 11th to 21st featuring publishers and publications from all over the world. The venue for the Book Fair is The Citadel, a former military barracks–a maze of alleyways and exhibits crowded with Cubans seeking an opportunity to buy books and score “freebies”. The Fair is a special treat for Cubans who often feel isolated from the rest of the world, so it’s a great place to see enthusiastic book lovers in action. For people watchers, there are always lots of international visitors to see as well. If you go, be sure to wear comfortable shoes because the weather is likely to be hot, and the pavement is mostly cobblestone or otherwise quite rough. When the Fair ends in Havana, it then travels to other cities throughout the island.

My second suggestion is to visit the Literacy Museum. It houses all the documentation, artifacts, photographs and related history of the literacy campaign of 1961 when Cubans volunteered by the hundreds of thousands to teach a million illiterate people to read and write in less than one year. That remarkable campaign changed history for Cuba and is still held up by the United Nations as the most successful literacy campaign in the world. Make sure you find out hours of operation before going.

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“Normalization” of Cuba/US Relations

December 17, 2015 is a day that will not be easily forgotten in Cuba. That day, it was announced that Cuba and the US would begin negotiations to normalize their political relationship after 54 years of prickly isolation. Everyone I talked to was excited, even ecstatic. Diplomatic relations, embassies, consuls, relaxation of travel restrictions, hopefully even an end to the terrible US trade embargo so punishing to Cuba–all could be on the table for review, all might be possible to change. All might be so much better after many years of isolation from a neighbour a mere 90 miles away.

While I could understand such enthusiasm, I also was concerned about the integrity of those things for which Cuba had fought and made a Revolution. The US is not a fan of Cuba, does not celebrate their universal education system which enables anyone capable of passing the exams to acquire whatever level of education they aspire to without it costing a cent. And though some of the hospitals are shabby and short of materials, health care is absolutely gratis. Child day care is free. Public transportation is cheap. While racism exists, it’s negligible compared to the US. Cuba has much to gain, but it also has much to lose. We can only hope that Cuba and Cubans will not be dazzled and overwhelmed by the promise of material goods that have been lacking for a long time. We hope they will not “sell out”. Some things are worth more.

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Presentation of Anita’s Revolution at new English-language bookstore in Havana

Cuba Libro, the English-language bookstore in Havana, sent out 200 email invitations to attend the presentation of my book, Anita’s Revolution. Fifty people squeezed into a space appropriate for forty. Some of those attending were those young volunteer teachers called “brigadistas“. They’re in their 60s now, but remember well that exciting time in 1961 when as teenagers they were part of the thousands who volunteered for the literacy campaign that taught almost a million illiterate Cubans to read and write in less than a year.

In the audience was a journalist from Montana, an historian, several Canadian tourists, some Cuban teachers of English and some book people. I had just begun my talk when proceedings were interrupted by the arrival of around 22 visiting Art and Architecture students from an American univesity and their prof. My presentation was well-received, and the Q&A period after was lively. The audience was very moved by vivid descriptions by the people who were “brigadistas” in 1961 telling of their experiences as young people teaching adults, the primitive conditions some people lived in then, the varied challenges, and the dangers some experienced from enemies of Cuba’s Revolution.

Thanks to Connor Gory, Cuba Libro’s owner/manager, for organizing the event and providing such a fine introduction. If you go to Havana, go have a good Cuban coffee on the patio of Cuba Libro. The address is Calle 24, esquina 19, Vedado, in Havana.

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News from Havana

I recently returned from three weeks in Cuba, three really interesting weeks. The day after I arrived, December 17th, breaking news was the announced normalization of relations between the USA and Cuba after 54 years of rancour and isolation. I felt I was present at an historic moment.

The reaction in Cuba ranged from quiet elation, to dancing in the streets. One man told me the hair on his arms was standing on end hours after the announcment. On the other hand, people concerned about Cuba being overwhelmed by the giant to the north said they were very glad that the isolation would end, and hopefully some day soon the long-standing embargo against Cuba–the infamous trading with the enemy legislation–would end too. They said Cuba would have to be strong in order not to lose the things the Revolution was fought for–equality, universal and gratis education, free health care, free day-care centres and much more. Watching what will happen in Cuba now will be fascinating.

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Literary Event in Havana Cuba December 22, 2014

Cuba’s first all English-language bookstore, Cuba Libro, advertises itself as a bookstore, cafe and oasis. According to my friends in Havana, it has become a must go to destination while vacationing in Cuba. On December 22nd, 2014 a special event will take place celebrating the anniversary of the 1961 Cuban literacy campaign. A screening of the documentary film MAESTRA (meaning “teacher”) about the campaign is the signature event, and as the author of Anita’s Revolution, a book about the campaign, I have been invited to participate. If you will be near or in Havana that day, don’t miss attending. The address in Havana is:
Calle 24, corner of 19th Street, Vedado, Plaza.
Telephone: 830-5205
email: cubalibrohavana@gmail.com

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Women and Cuba

This organization works to bring justice to Cuba, including pressuring the US government to end the 53-year-old economic blockade. They very kindly have posted information about Anita’s Revolution on their website as an available resource.

http://womenandcuba.org/print.htm

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Anita’s Revolution made the grade!

What an honour and thrill! The UK and USA Historical Novels Society selected Anita’s Revolution for review in their online Journal. To read the review, use the url below to access the website.

http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/?type=indie

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Feeding Cubans

In the years that followed the Cuban revolution, many people left the land to live, work, and further educate themselves in towns and cities. The new Revolutionary government often facilitated this exodus, building large apartment developments to provide opportunities for former “campesinos”, agricultural workers. Food was cultivated by workers hired to labour on state-owned cooperatives. Food shortages required the government to issue citizens a ration card, the “libreta”, to ensure that everyone was fed as fairly as national food production permitted.

Cubans watched food being exported for foreign currency in order to import goods not available otherwise. People who have dollars can purchase food (and other goods) in stores which accept foreign currency only. And while some foodstuffs are available outside the libreta, today, 53 years later, the ration card is still required and in use. The problem? In a recent speech to the people, Raul Castro said that the government is the largest landholder in Cuba, yet most of that land is not under cultivation.

Educating Cuba’s illiterate and disenfranchised people was a great and noble thing. However, a great irony has resulted from the emphasis on education that resulted in people leaving the land to establish life in urban settings. As the old vaudeville song asks, “How’re you gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Broadway–or Havana?

The solution is not simple. Government planning and priorities have obviously been faulty. Agriculture, agronomy, is a science. Knowledgeable farmers are now scarce. People are not motivated to undertake hard work on the land under the tropical sun when the fruits of their labour are for the state, not themselves.

Cuba is being praised for undertaking organic farming production, a by-product of the ongoing US trade embargo and little money to purchase expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides. What will Cuba do with its currently uncultivated land? Watching how Cuba solves the basic problem of feeding its twelve million people from its own fertile soil and ending rationing will be fascinating indeed.

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