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Visiting Cuban Scholar: “It’s about the people.”

Author Mirta Yáñez appreciated the opportunity to share Cuban culture and literature, particularly literature by women, during her time as Hampshire College’s fall 2014 visiting Cuban scholar. The four-time winner of Cuba’s Critics’ Prize found an enthusiastic audience of Hampshire and Five College students and faculty.

Mirta Yáñez

Author Mirta Yáñez appreciated the opportunity to share Cuban culture and literature, particularly literature by women, during her time as Hampshire College’s fall 2014 visiting Cuban scholar. The four-time winner of Cuba’s Critics’ Prize found an enthusiastic audience of Hampshire and Five College students and faculty.

“It’s important to have these exchanges to understand each other’s truths,” said Yáñez. “The most important thing is to actually know what a place is like, and not what you’re imagining it to be. It’s not about the politics. It’s about the people.”

That outlook is a key part of the Hampshire in Cuba program, which immerses Hampshire students in Cuban culture and connects them with a creative community through ties with the Cuban Union of Artists and Writers. In return, it brings some of those artists and writers to campus, where they have time to both interact with the community and spend time on their own work.

Yáñez was able to write portions of her next novel while at Hampshire. Her most recent novel, Sangra por la Herida (The Bleeding Wound), explored the impact of the 1959 socialist revolution in the decades that followed. Her discussions about it with Hampshire students, she said, were among the best memories she has of her time here.

“They asked really interesting questions about the novel. They did a deep reading of it,” she said, noting that the students were very interested in the challenges of writing in Cuba. “There’s a strong literary scene in Cuba,” she said. “It’s really interesting and complex. A lot of changes are happening. It’s not as difficult to publish now. What’s more difficult is the lack of resources.“

Yáñez was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of Hampshire’s student body. Two visiting scholars from China lived in her Greenwich mod for a time, as well, which she considered another exciting cultural exchange. Associate Professor of Law Flavio Risech-Ozeguera, a faculty director of the Hampshire in Cuba program, noted that it’s interaction like this that makes the program so inspiring.

“It’s not the same having an American professor talk about Cuba as it is to have a person who has lived the entire experience of revolution inside Cuba,” he said. “It’s critically important to be able to learn from people with that lived experience.”

Hampshire alum Monique Baron 10F, who studied with Mirta Yáñez in Cuba, served as translator for this interview.

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