Cuban Science Fiction & Fantasy Conference at AMU

Cuban Science Fiction & Fantasy Conference at AMU

November 2016 was an exciting month for students taking Spanish language and literature courses at AMU. Instructor of Modern Language Dayami Abella, Ph.D. (candidate), organized a Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference for the Spanish students at Ave Maria University that featured lectures, workshops and a trip to the International Book Fair in Miami.

Events started off on November 10th with a lecture by acclaimed Cuban author José Miguel Sánchez Gómes (or “Yoss,” the pseudonym by which he is known to his fans). Professor Abella met Yoss in February 2015 while attending the International Book Fair in Havana, Cuba, where she delivered a series of lectures on Cuban-American Science Fiction and Fantasy. When Abella told Yoss about Ave Maria University, he was intrigued and eager to visit. “He had never been to a Catholic university,” Abella explained, “since there are no religious institutions on the island [Cuba] and religion has been a problematic issue since 1959.”

Yoss spoke to students attending the AMU Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference about the history of Cuban science fiction writing and, more specifically, about the development of the David de ciencia-ficción en Cuba (David Science Fiction Award in Cuba). Yoss, who is arguably the best-known Cuban sci-fi writer, and who has published many books—including two in English, won the David Award himself in 1988 for Timshel; in 2015, he was a member of the award’s panel of judges.

[Above: Yoss poses after his lecture with Prof. Dayamí Abella, left, and student Cristina Carvajal.]

The next day, November 11th, Yoss visited the various Spanish courses and spoke to students about his novels and the genre of science fiction. He answered student questions, many of which regarded the current political situation in Cuba and how it has affected Cuban literature. Students in the class Latin American Literature (SPN 204) received a special lecture from Yoss on the short stories of Horacio Quiroga.

Events for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference were spread out over the entire month of November. A week after Yoss’ visit to AMU, students from the Latin American Literature class took a field trip to the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center, where they attended a poetry recital that featured Cuban writers Elaine Vilar Madruga and Laura Domingo Aguero. This trip was only a sneak peek of what the students had in store for them: over the period of November 21st - December 1st, the narrator, poet and playwright Elaine Vilar Madruga herself came to AMU and held a Spanish theater workshop for students in elementary Spanish language courses, and a creative writing workshop for students in advanced Spanish language and literature courses. The students in Latin American Literature received feedback on their writing not only from Elaine, but also from Cuban poet Eduardo Baullosa and Brazilian movie-maker Renato Galamba.

[Above: Students visiting the Miami Hispanic Cultural Arts Center for a poetry recital, from left to right, Cristina Carvajal, Prof. Abella, Andrea Salomone, Brian Schmidt and David Zuleta.] 

Before leaving campus, Elaine offered two lectures to the AMU community—one on “Science Fiction in Cuban and World Literature: It’s Themes and Their Importance,” and another on “Science Fiction Writers Have Something To Say: The Significance of Women in the Current Literary World.”

[Above, Elaine Vilar Madruga works with student Andrea Salomone; Below, a group poses after the workshop, from left to right, student Brian Schmidt, Prof. Abella, movie-maker Renato Galamba, poet Elaine Vilar, poet Eduardo Baullosa, and student Andrea Salomone.]

November was not just a busy month for the Spanish language and literature students at AMU—it was also a whirlwind for Professor Abella! It is thanks to her efforts in organizing the Science Fiction conference that so many students at AMU were able to learn more about Cuban literature and hear from some of Cuba’s best science fiction authors. Also thanks to Abella’s guidance, one AMU student, Andrea Salomone, published a short story, “Upside Down,”  which he had written in class. A second story by Salomone, “La lógica del mal” (The Logic of Evil), is due to come out very soon as well. He was also invited to write a narrative version of Puccini’s opera Turandot that will be published by Editorial Gente Nueva in Cuba. 

“My main goal,” Prof. Abella shares about her efforts in organizing these conference events, “is to bring a message of peace and fellowship to the young people of the United States and Cuba. I would like literature to be that initial link, unbreakable, that serves as an amnios, a spiritual vessel of culture.”

Below, Eduardo Baullosa reads from his last published book of poetry. 

A scene from the poetry recital, featuring, from left to right, Cuban poets Laura Domingo, Elaine Vilar and Yosie Crespo.