I was recently interviewed by all around exceptional human Christopher Romaguera for the Ploughshares blog. It was a pleasure speaking with Chris about my collection and my relationship to writing and Cuba 🇨🇺️
A few years ago, my good friend Jonathan Escoffery, after having read a different piece I’d written, said to me, “You should write a story about two friends working at a hotel in Cuba who want to marry a tourist in order to leave the country.” And so I did. The story, titled “Daredevils,” ended up being about a lot more than that initial premise, but it nonetheless owes its existence to Jonathan’s idea and encouragement.
Many people read this story, and offered feedback on it afterwards, which undoubtedly made it a stronger piece. A few months ago, I read from it during a visit to Brown University. Today, it was accepted for publication by a magazine I really like and admire, Third Coast. I can’t wait to see it in their pages! Huge thanks to everyone who had a hand in improving “Daredevils” along the way.
A few years ago, I read a fake news report that a giraffe had been stolen from Cuba’s National Zoo. I was, of course, somewhat disappointed that the story turned out to be false, but then I thought, “What if?” So I wrote a short story about it, which ended up dealing with friendship, race, American influence on Cuba, and animal cruelty. Today, that story, titled “The Man From the Zoo,” was accepted for publication by The Massachusetts Review. Huge thanks go out to Alina Collazo, Artem Derkatch, Shubha Sunder, and Ralph Rodriguez for their feedback and enthusiasm, which undoubtedly made this story better and encouraged me to send it out!
I wrote a personal blog piece for GrubStreet’s “Immigrant Stories” series about my journey from Cuba to the person and writer I am today, titled:
Fidel Castro was a dictator. He got rid of the opposition, sometimes by murdering them; he imprisoned and tortured artists, political activists, gays, journalists; he persecuted and often forced into exile anyone who spoke against or criticized his regime; he kept his nation in poverty while proudly declaring how strong and free our system in Cuba was; he sold universal healthcare (people went blind in Cuba because of a lack of Vitamin A) and free education (communist indoctrination included) to the globe while providing some of lowest salaries in the world to Cuban workers (with market prices comparable to the U.S.), indirectly taxing them ridiculous rates; he refused to hold open democratic elections and did not allow for freedom of the press. He was, in short, an asshole of the highest order, and his death comes many years too late.
Sadly, this won’t bring immediate change to Cuba, though plenty of Miami Cubans will loudly celebrate it (and understandably so). What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is that so many of the people celebrating Castro’s death today actually voted for Trump (hence my very complicated relationship with Miami). Personally, I’m glad that those who suffered directly because of Castro have this moment of catharsis, if one can call it that. But looking ahead, I choose to do so with nuance, and as always, listening to the Cubans inside the island, most of whom I’m sure are also content today but unable to openly celebrate it, and aware that Fidel’s brother is the one in charge, and that asshole was still alive the last time I checked.
In May of this year, Alina (my wife) and I made a 10-day trip to Cuba. It was the first time back for me after 18 years, and 12 for her. We stayed at the house where I grew up (we actually slept in what used to be my parents’ bedroom). As someone who writes about Cuba, this journey back was more than a personal reconnection with my native home, members of my family, and childhood friends. It was an opportunity to see, in real life, places that I remembered or had imagined while writing about them in my stories and novel.
Here are a few photos (from the hundreds!) we took while there.
El Capitolio and old cars: what most tourists get to see.
Cops harassing local vendors: what tourists don’t always see.
Teatro Mella: the setting for the opening of my novel.
Coppelia ice cream parlor: another setting in my novel.
View of El Vedado, el Malecon, and the U.S. embassy.
My best friend from my childhood took Alina and me on a ride around Havana in his Russian Jupiter motorcycle with sidecar. One of the coolest experiences we had.
Bumped into Ky-Mani Marley (one of Bob Marley’s sons) at a bar in Old Havana. We spoke briefly about our mutual love for the island and its people.
How so many people live just blocks away from the tourist areas.
Side street in Centro Habana, as viewed from El Paseo del Prado.
The sad state of the block where I grew up.
The Cuban countryside.
Havana’s budding restaurant industry (tostones rellenos and enchilado de cangrejo).
Remnants of the Soviet era. My dad used to drive one of these, assigned by his job, when I was growing up.
Alina and I on the famous steps at the University of Havana.
Having a complimentary drink at the restaurant where Obama ate during his visit.
The latest issue of The Florida Review is out, and it contains the title story of my collection, “A Kind of Solitude.” It is a story about an old Cuban peasant with a troubled past who finds himself trying to decide whether to confess to an accidental crime he has committed, or bury the evidence for good.
This story got me into Boston University’s MFA program and in many ways changed my life.
You can check out Sandra’s latest poetry book here: http://cavankerrypress.org/notable_scastillo_eatingmoorsandchristians.htmlMi
My wife and I recently went on a ten-day trip to Havana. It was the first time back in the island for me after 18 years. My experience was an incredible one, surpassing all expectations. I hope to return soon and often to Cuba, a place that will always be close to my heart.
This is me sitting on the front steps of the house where I grew up.