Morejón, Nancy

Nancy Morejón is one of Cuba's major authors, and also a major contemporary Caribbean poet (in Spanish). She continues Nicolás Guillén's legacy of identifying unique African characteristics of Cuban society and heritage, incorporating these into the rhythm and language of her poetry. Finally, she brings the Cuban, Caribbean, or Latin American woman's voice to poetry as a powerful player.

Morejón was born in 1944 in Havana, Cuba, and, except for short stints of academic or literary trips abroad, continues to reside in Cuba. The daughter of humble parents-a dock worker and a seamstress-Morejón was an excellent early learner. By age 15, she had earned credentials to become an English teacher. She is fluent in all three languages of Spanish, English and French. Morejón graduated with honors from the Universidad de la Habana, where she studied European, Caribbean and Cuban literatures, and specialized in French literature. She taught French language and literature in a prestigious Cuban academy; she has worked for Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, and as an editor for the Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba. She is a theater critic and journalist, dramatist and translator, and has published numerous critical texts, including two book-length studies on Guillén (editing one and writing the other). She reveals the spirit, community and every-day life of Cuban people in her poetry, and exalts the woman as well as Afro-Hispanic culture within the philosophy of an independent nation. Morejón has a deep understanding of Cuban history, and in poems such as "Mujer Negra" (Black Woman) the poet's "I" is never a mere victim of colonial history but instead a social and political actor in the Caribbean mindset.

Foremost and above all, Morejón is a poet. Her first book of poetry, Mutismos, was published in 1962 when she was only 18 years old. She was composing poems by age 13, centered on her family and her barrio in old Havana. Her first collections of poetry reveal a unique poetic voice and constant images of eyes, sea, mirrors, birds, and the city. In her early work the poetic voice is solitary, observing and contemplating influences on its society, demonstrating the fusion of two major cultures, the Spanish and African, into one Cuban heritage. In "Richard trajo su flauta," Morejón merges European music-Mozart's music for flute-with the sounds of the "drumbeats rising from the same fire." The poem depicts the discovery and a celebration of Africanity, remembering Black independence heroes, African gods such as Eleggua, and popular music likes sones and rumbas which incorporate African and European influences. The orishas (spirits) circle the house where Richard plays his flute, and vibrate around the musician's fingers, affecting the rhythm as he plays.

In Morejón's later works the poetic "I" is more actively involved in its history and culture. She suggests in her study of Guillén's work that his poetic voice is not an "I" but a "we," both cultural and epic, and the same could be said about her own work of the late twentieth century. Morejón's poetry is highly lyrical, at times intimate, spiritual or erotic, at other times strongly ideological and political.

One of her best known and often anthologized poems is "Mujer Negra", where she moves through various generations discussing immigration, slavery, poverty, rebellion and the independence movement (from Spain), and finally, affirmation of the Afro-Cuban as a human being after 1959. This poem emphasizes the slave's point of view, and demonstrates the influence of ideological freedom found in the Cuban Revolution. She underscores the racial together with the feminist dimensions of Cuban nationalism by making the Black woman the central figure and the protagonist of the contemporary era.

Morejón focuses both Cuba and the U.S. in her discussions of a history of slavery, lynching and inhumane treatment, and her poems inspire outrage in a cool, measured tone. She is a prolific writer and many of her poems evoke light, sometimes humorous evaluations of her people. Critics have noted Morejón use of Antillean humor, and a particularly Cuban form of joking and teasing. She is the literary descendant of Nicolás Guillén, great Cuban avantgarde poet of the early twentieth century who created a new style of poetry incorporating the sounds and language of African-Cubans. Morejón is in accord with cubanista or Cuban nationalist ideology; she states in her study of Guillén's poetry that the Black is an integrating and not an isolating element in the national culture.

One collection, Granada Notebook, appeared in translation in 1984, and the first commercial anthology of her poetry in English, Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing, was published in 1985. Morejón's poems are presented in both English and Spanish, and the selections span the years of her prolific body of poetry. The San Francisco Chronicle called it one of the ten best books of poetry that year. Her poems frequently appear in English translation in magazines and academic journals. A new book will be released in late 2002, which is a collection of her poems from 1954 to 2000 (320 pages), in bilingual format, titled Looking Within.

In 1986 Nancy Morejón won the "Premio de la crítica" (Critic's Prize) in Cuba, for her book Piedra Pulida. In 1999 and 2000, she made extensive tour circuits of United States universities, doing readings of her work and participating in interviews and conversations. In 2001, Morejón was awarded Cuba's National Prize for Literature, making it the first time a black woman has been awarded Cuba's most prestigious literary prize. Her poetry has been translated into French, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, German, Polish and Dutch, as well as English. In addition to her books of poetry and criticism listed below, Morejón's poems have appeared in numerous books and anthologies. She has also published her translations of French literature and critical essays into Spanish. A great number of essays, newspaper articles, interviews, and reviews are available on her work, some of which are noted below.


Primary Sources:

Amor, ciudad atribuída, poemas. Habana: Ediciones El Puente, 1964
Elogio de la danza. Mexico City: La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1982
Elogio y paisaje. Habana: Ediciones Unión, 1996
Fundación de la imagen. Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1988
Grenada Notebook/Cuaderno de Granada. Trans. Lisa Davis. New York: Círuculo de
Cultura Cubana, 1984
Mutismos. Habana: Ediciones El Puente, 1962
Nación y mestizaje en Nicolás Guillén. Habana: Ediciones Unión, 1982
Nancy Morejón. New York: Center for Cuban Studies, 1983
Octubre imprescindible. Habana: Ediciones Unión, 1982
Paisaje célebre. Caracas: Fundarte, Alcaldía de Caracas, 1993
Parajes de una época. Habana: Editorial Letras Caubanas, 1979
Piedra pulida. Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1986
Poemas. Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México, 1980
Poetas del mundo latino en Tlaxcala. Tlaxcala: Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala,
Recopilación de textos sobre Nicolás Guillén, ed. Habana Casa de las Américas, 1974
Richard trajo su flauta y otros argumentos. Habana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de
Cuba, 1967
Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing. Trans. Kathleen Weaver. San Francisco: The
Black Scholar Press, 1985
Mirar Adentro/Looking Within: Selected Poems, 1954-2000 (bilingual edition, African
American Life Series). Ed. Juana Maria Cordones Cook. ---: Wayne State
University Press, to be published December 2002
"A un muchacho," "Niña que lee en Estelí," "Soldado y yo." Toulouse: Caravelle, 1982
Baladas para un sueño. Habana: Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba, 1989
Le Chaînon Poétique. Trans. Sandra Monet-Descombey. Champigny-sur-Marne,
France: Edition L. C. J., 1994
Cuaderno de Granada. Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1984
Dos poemas de Nancy Morejón. Drawings and design by Rolando Estévez. Matanzas,
Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 1989
Lengua de pájaro. With Carmen Gonce. Habana: Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1971
Poemas de amor y de muerte. Toulouse: Caravelle, 1993
Ours the Earth. Trans. J.R. Pereira. Mona, Jamaica: Institute of Caribbean Studies,
El río de Martín Pérez y otros poemas. Drawings and design by Rolando Estévez.
Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 1996

Secondary Sources:

Afro-Hispanic Review, volume 15 (Spring 1996). This issue of the literary journal is
dedicated to Nancy Morejón and all critical essays focus on her work.
DeCosta-Willis, Miriam. Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejón. Washington
D.C.: Howard University Press, 1999
Feracho, Lesley. "Arrivals and Farewells: The Dynamics of Cuban Homespace through
African Mythology in Two Eleggua Poems by Nancy Morejón." Hispania 83:1
(March 2000): 51-57
Weaver, Kathleen. "The World of Nancy Morejón." Where the Island Sleeps Like a
Wing. San Francisco: The Black Scholar Press, 1985. xiii-xvii
Williams, Lorna V. "The Revolutionary Feminism of Nancy Morejón." CLA Journal 39
(June 1996): 432-53

Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez
Sonoma State University, California