Big news today: the U.S. and Cuba will reestablish full diplomatic relations after more than fifty years of estrangement. We have published many books on Cuba and hope a few of them might be useful to those wanting background to today’s news stories.
A general reader who wanted to learn as much about Cuba as possible in only one book could not do any better than The Cuba Reader. Edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff, the 736 page volume combines songs, paintings, photographs, poems, short stories, speeches, cartoons, government reports and proclamations, and pieces by historians, journalists, and others. Beginning with the first written account of the island, penned by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the selections assembled here track Cuban history from the colonial period through the ascendancy of Fidel Castro to the present.
The agreement announced today will allow greater exchange between U.S. and Cuban artists. We have published a number of excellent books on Cuban music and arts. Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures by Sujatha Fernandes is an ethnographic consideration of why the Cuban government has allowed criticism of its policies to be expressed in Cuban film, visual art, and music over the past fifteen years. In Havana beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings after 1989, prominent architects, scholars, and writers based in and outside of Cuba analyze how Havana has been portrayed in literature, music, and the visual arts since Soviet subsidies of Cuba ceased, and the Cuban state has re-imagined Havana as a destination for international tourists and business ventures. Cuban Music from A to Z by Helio Orovio is an encyclopedic guide to one of the world’s richest and most influential musical cultures. Alexandra Vazquez’s Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music is an original and impassioned take on the intellectual and sensory bounty of Cuban music as it circulates between the island, the United States, and other locations. Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana by Geoffrey Baker traces the trajectory of the Havana hip hop scene from the late 1980s to the present and analyzes its partial eclipse by reggaetón. Trumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba by Laurie A. Frederik is an ethnography exploring how the meaning of cubanía, or Cubanness, is generated in interactions between the state, ordinary Cubans, intellectuals, and artists and other cultural workers. Bridging Enigma: Cubans on Cuba is a special issue of SAQ focusing on Cuban artists. And for a look at Cuban literature, try Becoming Reinaldo Arenas: Family, Sexuality, and the Cuban Revolution by Jorge Olivares or read the novel The Initials of the Earth by Jesús Díaz.
To learn more about Cuba’s turbulent history, we suggest starting with the readable memoir Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century, in which a black Cuban woman named María de los Reyes Castillo Bueno (1902–1997) recounts her life in Cuba over the span of ninety years. To learn more about one of Cuba’s most iconic figures, try Margaret Randall’s Che On My Mind, in which the feminist poet takes an impressionistic look at the life, death, and legacy of Che Guevara. For a look at Cuba’s turbulent recent past, consider Capitalism, God, and a Good Cigar: Cuba Enters the Twenty-first Century, a collection edited by Lydia Chávez. Also looking at Cuba’s changing economy in the late 1990s, Adrian H. Hearn’s Cuba: Religion, Social Capital, and Development provides a detailed, on-the-ground analysis of how the Cuban state and local religious groups collaborate on community development projects and work with the many foreign development agencies operating in Cuba. Sean Brotherton’s Revolutionary Medicine: Health and the Body in Post-Soviet Cuba is a richly textured examination of the ways that Cuba’s once vaunted public health care system has changed during the past two decades and of the meaning of those changes for ordinary Cubans.
We also have many books about pre-Revolution Cuba. Ever Faithful: Race, Loyalty, and the Ends of Empire in Spanish Cuba by David Sartorius goes back to Cuba’s time as a Spanish colony and explores the relationship between political allegiance and race. Gillian McGillivray’s Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868–1959 examines the development of social classes linked to sugar production, and their contribution to the formation and transformation of the state, from the first Cuban Revolution for Independence Cuban Revolution. Cuba’s first republican era, from 1902 until 1959, is usually cast in terms of its failures and discontinuities, at best a prologue to the “real” revolution of 1959. In State of Ambiguity: Civic Life and Culture in Cuba’s First Republic, scholars from North America, Cuba, and Spain challenge this narrative, revealing this period in Cuban history as one of meaningful social and political engagement.
A number of our books address issues of race and sexuality in Cuba. After Love: Queer Intimacy and Erotic Economies in Post-Soviet Cuba by Noelle M. Stout examines Cuba’s booming sex trade’s effects on its gay, lesbian, and travesti communities. Jafari S. Allen’s ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-making in Cuba is a groundbreaking ethnography on race, desire, and belonging among blacks in early-twenty-first-century Cuba, examining everyday practices in Havana and Santiago de Cuba—including Santeria rituals, gay men’s parties, hip hop concerts, the tourist-oriented sex trade, lesbian organizing, HIV education, and just hanging out. In Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition, Stephan Palmié looks at the modernity of Afro-Cuban religion. Crossing the Water: A Photographic Path to the Afro-Cuban Spirit World, a collection of striking black and white photographs by Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh, documents the practices of Santería, Palo Monte, and Espiritismo.
And finally, Cuba and the U.S. share a national pastime: baseball! The Quality of Home Runs: The Passion, Politics, and Language of Cuban Baseball by Thomas F. Carter is a lively ethnographic exploration of the interconnections between baseball and Cuban identity.
We hope some of our titles will help you learn more about Cuba.