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Speaker: Esther Whitfield, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Hispanic Studies at Brown University
Moderated by: Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics; Professor of African and African American Studies, Director, Afro-Latin American Research Institute, Chair, Cuba Studies Program
This paper proposes reading the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo and the surrounding areas of Eastern Cuba as a borderland region that shares a natural environment, a marking of human lives by isolation, and a body of literature and art that privileges survival over political hostility. It draws on an archive of poetry, art and memoirs by detainees and military personnel at the base, and creative work by Cubans living in Guantánamo province, to trace relationships between the arts and other forms of representation; and between this isolated corner of Cuba and the rest of the world.
Esther Whitfield has published primarily on literary writing and social change in post-Soviet Cuba; and on borders, visibility, and surveillance in writing and art about the Guantánamo naval base. Her current book project, “The New No-Man’s Land: Guantánamo’s Literary Life,” proposes reading the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo and the surrounding areas of Eastern Cuba as a borderland region that shares a natural environment, a marking of human lives by isolation, and a body of literature and art privileging survival over political hostility. The project draws on an archive of poetry, art and memoirs by detainees and military personnel at the base and by Cubans nearby, and scholarship in Comparative Literature, Caribbean Studies, History and Law, to trace relationships between literature and other forms of representation, and between this region and the rest of the world.
A historian of Latin America and the Caribbean who specializes in the study of comparative slavery and race relations, Professor de la Fuente’s works on race, slavery, law, art, and Atlantic history have been published in Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French. He is the author of Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (Cambridge University Press, 2020, coauthored with Ariela J. Gross), Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), published in Spanish as Una nación para todos: raza, desigualdad y política en Cuba, 1900-2000 (Madrid: Editorial Colibrí, 2001), winner of the Southern Historical Association's 2003 prize for “best book in Latin American history.” He is the coeditor, with George Reid Andrews, of Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2018, available in Spanish and Portuguese) and of the “Afro-Latin America” book series, Cambridge University Press. Professor de la Fuente is also the curator of three art exhibits dealing with issues of race and the author or editor of their corresponding volumes: Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art (Havana-Pittsburgh-New York City-Cambridge, Ma, 2010-12); Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba (Santiago de Cuba-Havana-New York City-Cambridge, Ma-San Francisco-Philadelphia-Chicago, 2013-16) and Diago: The Pasts of this Afro-Cuban Present (Cambridge, Ma-Miami, ongoing). Professor de la Fuente is the founding Director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research and the Senior Editor of the journal Cuban Studies.