Victor Fowler

Victor Fowler

2015-2016: Mark Claster Mamolen Fellowship


Victor Fowler is one of the most important writers of his generation. Born in 1960 to an Afro-Cuban family, he belongs to the first generation of writers born in Revolutionary Cuba. This was the generation that was supposed to provide the nation with what Che Guevara called the “new man.” In reality, this expectation was not fulfilled—few adopted the morals of Revolutionary life out of disinterested altruism. In fact, most of the writers of Fowler’s generation have gone into exile. In contrast, Fowler has remained on the island, and has published 10 volumes of poetry and 5 of essays, in addition to a number of edited volumes and important collaborations. He has broken new ground in Cuban letters with extensive essays on the body, race and sexuality. His poetry, rich and allusive, gives us a window onto the complex realities of life in revolutionary Cuba.

Project Description

A research on how North American blacks look, analyze and understand black Cubans since last years of XIX century to the beginnings of Cuban revolution.

On October 3, 1912, months after the uprising of the Independents of Color was severely repressed, Booker T. Washington reflected on the episode in the journal The Continent (Atlanta). Washington’s published reflection, which up to now has failed to be the  focus of scholarly work, offers a unique opportunity to explore how leaders of US Black emancipatory movements saw the Cuban experience, and how those reflections were informed by historical forces impacting each of these movements aw well as their interdependence. The fact that the legendary but also controversial assimilationist figure as a key leader of the movement toward greater organization of American blacks at the time this article is published, felt moved to comment on Cuba’s uprising is meaningful especially as it allows us to follow a continuing line of interconnections between these movements.  The proposed project’s focus on this essay, now rescued from the tide of his writings, offers a starting point that helps to fill a missing piece  at last, up to now truly an enigma; I mean to study and explore  what was the attitude of American blacks to what was happening in Cuba, a few kilometers to the south, and what was the impact of the facts (from the armed protest to slaughter) in the press and in general, among American black intellectuals. At the same time, remembering that Cuban armed fights against Spanish colonial power began in 1868, only three years after the end of Civil War in the States, we could assume that the problems (whatever they were) of black Cubans should be relevant, or at least a source of curiosity to their brothers of shared race in the still new United States: the new nation reshaped after the victory of the North and the correlative defeat of slavery structures in the South.

In a certain way, through the whole XIX century both countries –particularly concerning the dynamics of the races- passed the decades looking at the other in a sort of room full of mirrors, asking could happen when you make mistakes at the level of the whole society, how to solve tensions between races, what to expect of the future. In this schema, we could define two peak moments in Cuban history from the point of view of social perception of race and racism, politics of integration or segregation, economical opportunities or life into poverty, promise or hollow rhetoric. The moments are the repression of the movement of Independents of Color (1912) and the triumph of the Cuban Revolution (1959). The first moment caused the destruction of the Independents of Color, the first political party in the world organized around a racial agenda of black people, and the second was the beginning of a discourse and complex practice of new rhetoric about race in Cuba, the Americas, Africa and even the world.

In the middle of these two peak moments (even as we recognize meaningful moments  before and without doubt, until our days) we have many other political and cultural actions through which North American and Black Cubans try to establish relations of influence and alliances with the other. This project will explore some of these interdependencies and mirroring through the writing of key figures.  Examples  could be the friendship between Langston Hughes and Nicolas Guillen, with all the consequences to the poetical work of both intellectuals; the interest of Rafael Serra Montalvo in the doctrine of Booker T. Washington, of whom he was the principal advocacy in Cuba during these years; the essays of Juan Rene Betancourt (his book “Doctrina negra” was commissioned by North American NAACP), and many other such encounters which have never before been explored using this specific lens. 

All the research concerning Cuban matters, and specially the links between Cuba and E.U. is under a process of change after the announcement of new politics to Cuba made by President Obama. The current project will trace the lines of connections between Cuban and North American blacks along one century, looking at proximities and distances, commonalities and divergences, past times and a future of contacts that awaits us within the unfinished project of racial justice.

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