Award-winning Cuban poet and translator shares memories of Communist state, welcomed by Poetry Center

In a time when strict social reforms led many members of her home country to flee to the United States, Nancy Morejón was a child, playing in the streets of Cuba. It was these scenes and a nationwide strive to work as hard as possible that inspired much of her future writing.

Over 50 years after her young introduction to the first Communist state in the Western Hemisphere, the women and gender studies department and the Poetry Center on campus are kicking off the fall semester with a reading by Morejón, now a poet and translator.

The reading on Thursday, Sept. 4, celebrates the works of Morejón, who grew up in Havana, Cuba, to a militant dockworker and a trade unionist seamstress during the rise of Fidel Castro in the 1950’s.

In the preface for her new book “Homing Instincts/ Querencias,” Morejón discusses how growing up in the middle of that revolutionary time shaped her poetry.

“It affected (me) deeply,” Morejón said, “being the only child of parents so firmly rooted in the trade union movement and in the life of a port city where black and white intermingled in the neighborhoods, united by their common bond of hard work.”

These issues can be seen in her piece, “I Love My Master,” in which Morejón writes through the eyes of an African slave and addresses the relationship between blacks and whites.

After attending the University of Havana, Morejón graduated with honors in Caribbean and French literature, and went on to receive critical acclaim for her original poetry and translated works.

In 2001 she was awarded the Cuban “Premio de la crítica” (Critic’s Prize) for her poem Piedra Pulida, and was the first black woman to win Cuba’s National Prize for Literature in the same year.

“She is a poet who is concerned with issues of gender and transnationalism,” said Deborah Cohler, chair of the women and gender studies department. “We’re really excited to have her.

“I think (students) can expect a really engaging, exciting hour,” Cohler said. “Specifically (the discussion on) afro-Cuban topics and thinking about Latin America in the context of the diaspora and poetry. I mean she’s very well published and renowned and a really exciting, important thinker.”

Dr. Sara Cooper, an associate professor at CSU Chico and Morejón’s publisher, said students can look forward to hearing  “some of Nancy Morejóns’s most iconic poems like ‘Mujer Negra,’ as well as poems from her newest collection, ‘Homing Instincts/ Querencias.’” Cooper added that Morejón will be taking questions from the audience following the readings.

Morejón will also be appearing at other public events around the Bay Area including the Emerald Tablet in San Francisco at 4 p.m. Sept. 7, the ANSWER Coalition event for the Cuban 5 at 7 p.m. Sept. 12, the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at San Jose State University, room 225, at 4 p.m. Sept. 12, and at Moe’s Books in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17.

Morejón’s reading begins at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 4 in the Poetry Center, Humanities room 512. Admission is free.