This is an interview with Elaine Vilar Madruga about the SFF in Cuba
Elaine, please present yourself to our readers
Around six or seven years old I made a firm decision —and it was not at all a game for me, I swear— of being a writer. I have since been infinitely lucky that my life’s paths have leaded me to plant the seeds of my books and watch my own literary trees grow. My birth as a Science Fiction author happened in 2016 when I won the Honorary Mention in one of the most relevant Youth Prizes of this genre in my country, and precisely with my debut work; a dystopian novel told from different point of views and characters. Those whom, at the same time, blended into a somehow chaotic order within a society that was feeding from the most recent history of the American continent, fundamentally from the events related to the Latin American dictatorships and their massive death tolls and missing people still residing in the collective memories and emotions.
I consider myself an author that doesn’t grow within the boundaries of any genre. For me, literature is a vast and liminal land where everything, although appearing as polar, tends to merge at moments. That being the reason why my literature is a hybrid that opts to channel within the prose elements owned by the dramaturgy and poetry; hence why my literature grants capital relevance to the idea of the visuality, of this collage that the reader assembles in their mind with the assistance, or the initial push, that the image from the author places in the centre of the references. My narrative, then, is in part poetry and in part dramaturgy, and I am particularly interested in the human matters at a little scale, those events that are overlooked, ant holes within our emotions and feelings, that in the long run end up not being that invisibles nor unpredictable because they are part of the most complex skein that we call psyche.
I have always been interested in building three dimensional characters; characters with depth, with skin, tendons and bones, characters with marrow and blood, whose will overpowers even my own as an author. All these concepts, that I try to slowly re-create in this reply, I have spilt them in my own idea of what is meant to be a Science Fiction or Fantasy text.
However, I consider my essence to be in the novel, it is the kind of writing which I feel the most comfortable with. I love the long breathing literatures, the inner dialogues, getting lost in the essence of my characters while actively listening, stroke their cords, feel their music. Because I believe that characters are percussed, strung out, and pulsed chords that only a good musician —in this case a writer— is able to transform in sound, in thunder, in noise, in a progression that can be as chaotic as orderly, just like music.
At thirty-one, my literary work has expanded through several languages and countries. I have been published by several Latin American, North American and European publishers; also some of the most relevant Science Fiction magazines have edited my work. I have been blessed by being accompanied by my books, by my characters which encompass a universe of already more than 30 released titles of different genres, such as novel, poetry, playwright or children’s literature, essay, literary study, short story, and of course, Science Fiction and Fantasy. On this path, I have had the privilege of founding specialized writing workshops, coordinated national and international events, given lectures at several universities around the world but, above all, I have owned the highest privilege: to live for literature, with literature, in literature. This is a harmonious marriage, I confess, where sometimes there is anguish and reconciliation, uncertainty and certainty, and a road where we can only perceive –—the literature and I— a universe of unlimited possibilities.
From my early six or sever years old, I remember that literature was my first and greatest love, perhaps also the most pure one.
Please try to make a brief introduction on the Cuban SF history.
Science Fiction in Cuba has fought to ear its place, and many times those have been bloody battles. There is a need to fight with a good literary work backing you up in order for a country of readers to consider this as non-escapism, second rate genre, but as simply literature. Not everything that is written in my country is good, true. In literature, same as in life, there are lights and there are shadows. It is necessary to cushion the shadows with much more light, with much more quality works.
The history of Science Fiction in Cuba is also the story of bunch of dreamers that bet for an unrealistic genre in a moment when the country’s social pace was searching for a perfect reflection of the reality. Thanks to this initial push and the ones following it from our generations which have continued betting for Science Fiction, it is that nowadays we have a body of texts solid enough to talk about an incipient, but each time less incipient, history of the genre. In it, there exists a plurality of opinions, polarity of styles between authors, with many great books and stories, with excellent characters that have earned the right to breath as part of the literary fauna of this Caribbean island. The impulse hasn’t always stayed constant because there are periods of large effervescence of the genre, followed by an apparent calm, of fruitful truce, even some of silence. Some of the most relevant authors of this genre have gone into exile and are now part of that other Cuba, that Cuba with coordinates belong to all the lands of the world, a literary homeland extended beyond the regional borders. These promotions of authors that have gone in search of new horizons, nevertheless, left the seed of the genre in Cuba, in such a way so that new emerging promotions —at times not too solid, and which learned from trial and error— wanted to trust once again that the Cuban Science Fiction has still much more to tell.
The history of the genre in Cuba is also the history of its readers, its followers and fandom of the Science Fiction: a valuable support not only for the authors and publishers, but also for the promotion of books and the writers’ work. The readers, from the discreet reception’s plane —which is, with no doubts, the most important plane of all— have been allies of our work and deserve, I at least never question it, one of the crowns of our success.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzins (printed and online) in Cuba?
We have few magazines in Cuba. Some have been running for short periods of times, in very small, almost invisible releases, and financially supported by their own creators. The majority of the magazines focused to the genre in Cuba have been released online and with formats accommodating to the technological limitations of the country (limitations existing even in today’s world). I am talking about digital magazines that many times were sent through emails, from USB drive to USB drive, that were distributed and shared in literary events, workshops, in common areas.
Some generic magazine publishes Science Fiction works, but I must reiterate that it is something that happens only in occasions, in other words, almost never. These magazines do have physical circulation, while those focused solely to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre have been struggling with little material resources and initiate, like almost everything in the history of Cuban Science Fiction, from the effort of a group of dreamers and doers, be it writers, editors, specialized readers, essayists, designers. Most of the times these are self-subsidized magazines. Using other words, Science Fiction magazines in Cuba have been founded and kept alive due to the individual effort. I will mention some, the most recent ones: Disparo en Red, Qubit, Korad (in which I was a co-editor for almost 6 years); and some also created by the fandom: La voz de Alnader, Estronia.
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
Essentially, in the history of Cuban Science Fiction, literary workshops have had a special impact in the foundation of new generations of writers and readers. It has been this way always, or let’s say, almost always, to avoid generalizations. Throughout the decades, diverse literary workshops, lead by the outstanding figures of the moment in this genre; have taken this role of both mentorship and training. Nowadays, only one literary workshop remains active, Espacio Abierto, founded in 2009, to which I am linked to by strong spiritual bonds as I was one of its founders, promoter, and organizer of its national and international events, in a dynamic that lasted for almost seven years of my life. In 2016, I officially left Espacio Abierto, but its current leaders have continued with the work, with some periods in which the workshop was silent and with, I suppose —I can do no more than assume— some infrastructure and process changes, obvious changes given the pass of time and the individual history of its current coordinators.
Which are the most important local and national SF&F associations?
We don’t have one, unfortunately, except for the one which is born from the push and the free and collective association of writers who have, at least in the beginning, the same goals of promotion of the genre in Cuba. If such a place exist, and I will make a distinction since I am aware that I am not speaking of the same phenomenon, is the same Taller Literario Espacio Abierto, due to its ability to attract writers and aspiring writers, due to its promotional work, due to its persistence when editing self-subsidized magazines as well as its continuous work for longer than a decade; which includes the coordination of varied related projects, such as editorial or other kind of projects: international events, anthologies, literary contests, online discussions, etc…
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
Several Cuban publishing houses release Science Fiction and Fantasy works, although many of them started doing it just recently and by following a process of accepting the genre. Earned rightfully, the kudos goes to Editorial Gente Nueva and, within this publisher, specifically to Colección Ámbar (department focused in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Terror). This collection, led by the tireless and exceptional editor Gretel Ávila, has been one of the main seats of support for writers of the Fantastic Literature of our country, and it is thanks to her that authors of the new generations have found a fair editorial space and a worthy bill, be it on what refers to the editorial curatorship or the works’ design.
Other publishers that, at times, have released Science Fiction books in Cuba include Casa Editora Abril (which releases annually under its Colección Calendario the winning titles in Science Fiction), Aldabón, Ácana, Extramuros (through the now extinct Colección Impacto), Letras Cubanas.
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Cuba? What are their main attractions?
Nowadays the Evento Behíque, organized by the national fandom, is the event that gathers not only writers of this genre in Cuba, but also readers, lovers of the Japanese culture and manga, otakus, cosplayers, comic artist, illustrators, cartoonists; anyways, it is an event that covers a wide spectrum of intellectual references, social gatherings and meetings between readers and writers. Also, and with a higher professional focus in writing, the Taller Espacio Abierto arranges annually an event to discuss more theoretical topics related to the history of the genre in Cuba and worldwide, contest prizes are announced, Visual Arts’ exhibitions are coordinated, critical debates occur. Both conventions pursue similar goals, using different approaches: to effectively connect all the makers of the genre in Cuba, enable projects and commune with the genre that we love and protect.
Who are the main author names in today’s Cuban SF&F?
Without a second thought: Daína Chaviano, Michel Encinosa Fú, Yoss, Malena Salazar Maciá, Eric Flores Taylor, Erick J. Mota, Maielis González. There are many others, with writing styles that start to display more solid characteristics (and also certain flaws) but whose trajectory hasn’t yet reached a scriptural fullness due to varied reasons. Among them, I follow with special attention the work of Yadira Álvarez Betancourt, an author with a special style, and whose work comes to us in drops, but it is fascinating nonetheless.
Give us some names of SF&F Cuban graphic artists.
Among all, I choose the marvelous work of Duchy Man Valderá, with whom I have had the pleasure to work for the first two releases of my trilogy El trono de Ecbactana (The Throne of Ecbactana). Duchy´s work is a fine and precise weave, extremely versatile. I must confess that, as a writer, I feel that the poetics of Valderá and my own are part of the same common thread of feedback; and that creative twin bond, when it is found, it is wonderful.
What makes Cuban SF original?
I believe that good Cuban Science Fiction stands out for the employment of a language loaded with twists and symbols, signs. I think that good Cuban Science Fiction is capable of building a character without making the mortar where the writer has influenced noticeable. Above all, I think that the good Cuban Science Fiction is capable of seeing the dystopic within the utopic, and the same way in the opposite direction, it is a bitter sweet writing, poetic and raw, able of synthesizing the History and extrapolate universal quests in a specific and particular writing style. And, to better state my point, I reiterate the use of “good”. I am talking about quality in Science Fiction, because under the skies of this world, many books are written and many words are spent; however, not all, unfortunately, get to be the arrow on the target.