Achy Obejas’ The Tower of the Antilles

in Latino Studies

Quesada, Sarah. “Achy Obejas’ The Tower of the Antilles and a Literary Life in Retrospect.”

Latino Studies 18.1 (2020): 129- 136

Link to Article

A translator, journalist, poet and writer, Achy Obejas was born in Cuba in 1956. She arrived to the United States when she was 6 years old and was raised in the Midwest. Writing as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, she then turned to literature with her breakthrough collection of short stories, We Came All the Way from Cuba so You Could Dress Like This? (1994). In her three acclaimed novels, Memory Mambo (1996), Days of Awe (2001), and Ruins (2009), she has complicated the notion of Caribbean diaspora. Through the experiences of at times ambiguous, if not multifaceted, protagonists, her writing explores the intricacies of painful exile from different angles: either from the United States, peering into Cuba, or from the 1990s Special Period, as Cuba looks almost longingly outward. These experiences—an exile usually laced with the complexities of intersectionality, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality—are mutually constitutive in the process of finding “home” anew. Obejas has also written in Spanish; her collection of short stories, Aguas y otros cuentos (2009), was published with Letras cubanas in Cuba. Her writing has earned her various awards, such as a Pulitzer Prize for her journalism, two Lambda Literary Awards, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, and a Ford Fellowship for literature and translation. Besides her renowned work as a writer, Obejas has also edited Havana Noir (2007) and Immigrant Voices (2014), and translated renowned authors such as Rita Indiana and Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Junot Diaz. Finally, as a poet, she has long experimented with form, in This Is What Happened in Our Other Life (2007), her narrative, and, most recently, in her widely acclaimed collection The Tower of the Antilles (2017). She is currently the director of the MFA Program at Mills College in Oakland, California, but on the occasion of her return to the Midwest to celebrate her recent book at the University of Notre Dame, Obejas reminisced on what has been her literary canonicity over the course of 25 years.