Monday, December 27, 2010

Ena Lucia Portela's "100 BOTTLES" in MIAMI BEACH Dec 29

Last year, I had the pleasure of translating Ena Lucia Portela's Cien Botellas en Una Pared into English. It was finally published last month by the University of Texas Press as One Hundred Bottles.

The job came right after I'd worked on Junot Diaz' Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, creating a Spanish-language version out of a seemingly impossible to translate novel that incorporated not just good chunks of Spanglish but also linguistic cameos by Urdu, Japanese, German, and a smattering of other languages, plus multiple and multi-layered references to pop culture, music and Dominican and American history.

So when Portela's book landed on my desk, I was both exhilarated and apprehensive. Probably none of the current crop of young Cuban writers -- except the word wizard Orlando Luis Pardo -- plays with language as much as Portela. The book had been a big hit in Cuba and gotten critical raves in Europe so there was little question in my mind that my immediate circle and my literary peers would be looking at it particularly closely. To ratchet up the pressure, it's Portela's book-length English-language debut.

What I found in translating Portela was an experience wholly different in every way from translating Diaz. For starters, the material -- crazy doings in Havana in the 90s -- was familiar. And the language, so very Cuban, so very Havanesque, was utterly recognizable in letter and spirit. The translation flowed like water, to be frank.

I'll be reading from the book for the first time Wednesday, Dec. 29 at the Books & Books in Miami Beach at 927 Lincoln Road. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. If you're in town, please stop by and tell me what you think.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Multi Kulti & Book Tasting Rocked!

The reading at Multi-Kulti earlier this month turned out to be a real blast. The subject was immigration and there was much more on the bill than just literature. Some young undocumented folks spoke about the DREAM Act (which, unfortunately, failed in the senate a week later and may be lost for a while) and about organizing in general, and poet Bill Hillman hosted another session of the Windy City Story Slam, which offered some shockingly good stories. My favorite reader, Karolis Gintaras Zukauskas, came in second but it was overall delightful.

I also had the good fortune to share the bill with John Schultz, who told a very emotional tale sans script, and the amazing Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, who utterly thrilled the crowds.

For me, it was a brand new experience in two different ways. For starters, I read non-fiction, a piece that ran in Vogue magazine in 1998 about the Elian Gonzalez debacle and how it affected Cuban families. I decided to go with it, after having left it alone for so many years, because it touched on so many aspects of immigration and assimilation. To make it current I had to revisit a few things but I was honestly stunned by how little needed to be changed.

The second thing was accidental -- my printer refused to work and I simply didn't have time to run out and get new ink. So I ended up mailing the entire manuscript to myself and reading it on my cell. I was quite terrified -- and I did lose my place once, badly -- but the audience was forgiving. What I discovered, though, was that it was remarkably easy once I got the hang of it. And though it presents a challenge in that I'm looking down a lot, it also has advantages: the pages are in strict order and there's no paper to hide behind. I might do this again, on purpose.

The entire reading was recorded on -- there are a few glitches here and there, but definitely not their fault. In fact, it's really a heck of an editing job.

Later in the week, I read a few pages from Ruins at Depaul's first ever faculty "Book Tasting." To my surprise, more than 150 people
showed up to hear a dozen profs and staffers read a few minutes from our books. There was dead serious stuff and very funny pieces and much in-between. After the reading itself, the authors were gathered for a reception to meet and greet and had our books paired with a select wine. Mine ended up being a tasty cabernet, full-bodied but not too sweet.

The "Book Tasting" idea had struck me as so bizarre, I'd really wondered about it but the event was a gigantic success. And it was great fun to hang out afterward and talk to the folks who'd come hear the readers, and to some of the other authors as well.

I have a big reading coming up this week in Miami, on Wed., Dec 29 at the Coral Gables Books & Books. It's a new experience for me, since I won't be reading from my own creative writing but from my translation of Ena Lucia Portela's One Hundred Bottles (University of Texas Press).

I'll have more details about the reading and the book tomorrow, and, later this week, about upcoming readings in Austin and Washington D.C.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CHICAGO: Two readings this week!

Coming up: This Saturday, December 4, 8 p.m., reading with Irvine Welsh at the Windy City Story Slam Immigration Show, Multi Kulti 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Then, next week, Wednesday, December 8, 6 p.m., at DePaul's University Center, 525 S. State St., what's being billed as A Book Tasting. The event features Haki Madhubuti, Regina Speller Sims, Patricia Monaghan, Larry Bennett, Joseph Ferrari, Rebecca Johns, Andrea Lyons and me. We'll read very briefly, sign, hang out and sip from whatever wine is being paired with our books. 

I'm not kidding about that -- and I do fear that because Ruins takes place in Cuba, I'll be paired with something sickly sweet and fruity where something deeper, like a Malbec, might work better. Yeah, I know Malbecs are Argentine -- close enough, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

La Casa de Isaac!

At the end of last month, I lectured at Lake Forest College, up in the northern coastal burbs. I don’t often wander out that way, but it’s always a treat to ride up Lake Shore Drive once it ceases to be an urban thoroughfare, especially in the fall. Leafy, golden Lake Forest – wildly moneyed Lake Forest – is also an architectural treat.

Nestled in nature, Lake Forest College is tiny (about 1300 students), Presbyterian-affiliated, pretty liberal, and very academically oriented. I read there about 15 years ago and remembered the students as sharp and interested.

No surprise, then, that the response was very similar this time around. The students were engaged, prepared, serious – it was a total joy to parry with them during our question & answer session.

Afterward, my host, Gizella Meneses took me out to dinner with a handful of faculty and students, as is standard practice. The surprise was in where she took us: La Casa de Isaac, a family-owned Mexican restaurant in nearby Highland Park.

Of course, there was nothing unusual in going to a Mexican restaurant. My hosts usually try to go for Cuban, but outside of Florida, New York and New Jersey, that’s usually a tall order. And I adore Mexican food, so I’m always game for the substitute (in fact, I often prefer it).

But La Casa de Isaac, as Gizella explained, is no ordinary Mexican joint. Besides its deliciousness (enhanced by the company of the Lake Forest women), it’s discreetly Jewish.

“I thought it was especially appropriate because of Days of Awe,” Gizella said, referring to my novel about crypto-Jews – hidden Jews -- in Cuba.

The big clue about its Jewish connection is in the name of the restaurant but a quick glance at the menu will show an utter absence of pork and shellfish. No, it’s not kosher, and there’s some mixing of meat and milk, but it’s, let’s say, kosher friendly.

Very Days of Awe!

Mil gracias, Gizella!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Autumn in the Midwest

Just got back from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., which afforded me an excuse to drive around -- to loll, really -- southern Michigan and northern Indiana before coming home.

The gig itself was loads of fun. I'd actually forgotten it was an hour later in Michigan, which meant that hour cushion I'd given myself turned into a breathless race to be on time. So I arrived all pumped and ready to rock. I didn't read this time, but rather lectured: "Identity and Dislocation." You'd call it my stump speech if I was in politics, with a little variation here and there. The 80some students had read Ruins and had great questions. They were a super bunch!

On the way home, no longer hurrying, I got off the expressway at my hometown, Michigan City, and darted straight to the beach -- yeah, the beach. This coast in Indiana is my most favorite place on earth in the fall.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More Vocalo

Tire changing, old school, in Back-of-the-Yards.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 Stanley Cup

For the words, check out Citylife on

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Well, it's not about touring, but I'll be doing Citylife on for a while, about the charms, balms and not so sunny times in the city. Please check it out!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Ah, tomorrow is the traditional Cuban independence day -- the pre-revolutionary one dedicated to the separation from Spain. I don't say "victory" cuz Teddy Roosevelt and his Yellow Rice Brigade (yup, that's what they were called) kind screwed things up for us in that department at the last minute but ...

Anyway, I get to share the stage tomorrow with another Cuban, Cristina Garcia. And with a revolutionary, Amiri Baraka. And with best-selling Pulitzer nominee Bernice McFadden.

Intimated? Yeah, you bet I am.

I mean, merciful god, we're reading poetry.

I'm going to try and nod at Cuban independence day with my reading, and at love, of course, and, well ... all sorts of stuff. Come and see.

It's Thursday, May 20, at 7pm at the Brooklyn Public Library, the Grand Army Plaza location, and it's part of the Brooklyn Independents Poetry Reading Series. 

And the dude above on the horse? Jose Marti, our big War of Independence hero, as depicted in a statue to his memory in Central Park.

Monday, May 3, 2010


This week, I travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for what looks to be an amazing literary event: El Festival de la Palabra. More than 65 Latin American writers are descending on San Juan to talk, debate, discuss, read, get to know each other, share, argue and listen ... I'm looking forward to seeing old friends like Leonardo Padura and Larry LaFontaine as well as meeting writers I've long admired, like Mayra Montero and Karla Suarez. I'll be doing three panels -- the program's long and kind of confusing, but also full of promise.

If you're in San Juan, stop by and say hi!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Tuesday, June 29, Jeffrey Pub, 7041 S Jeffrey on the South Side of Chicago!

When it comes to places to read for, to and about girls, this is just about one of the rowdiest, smartest, and sexiest crowds. And it's during Pride Week!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Irving Park Book Club

I was recently hosted by the lovely ladies at the Old Irving Park Book Club -- a great time was had by all!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Upcoming gigs!

April 22: Prairie State College.

May 6-9: Festival de la Palabra in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

May 20-22: Brooklyn Book Festival.

I'll try to post details as we get nearer to each event!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New story

"Kimberle" has been published only in Cuba (in Aguas & Otros Cuentos) but read at last year's Chicago Humanities Festival. I did a presentation with the amazing Mark Doty that was video taped and just went up on YouTube.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Travel by Books

Wow -- what a curious and interesting way to look at reading. This blogger logged 92 countries worth of reading in 2009 -- and I'm there representing Cuba, natch.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ft. Lauderdale in March!

Huge fundraiser for the Broward County Library -- I'll be joining a terrific list of writers too!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Biblio Buffet

Super sweet review!

There is a line at the beginning of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea that goes “. . . after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky . . .”

Most of the friends who sit in the humid Havana evenings playing dominos with him think Usnavy Martín Leyva is salao. He is poor. His wife is not exactly simpatico. His teenage daughter is, well, a teenage girl. His apartment is crumbling under the weight of years of neglect and some illegal, ill-advised construction by the people who live above him. Really, it’s just a matter of time until the building is in ruins. His life is teetering on the brink of ruin itself.

To read the rest, check out Biblio Buffet!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Currently in Chicago but I'll be headed back to Oakland for the season just in time for a reading at the California College of the Arts of Friday, January 22. I love doing presentations in art schools -- students always have a surprising and provocative take on things!

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Mex City

Terrific new review of Mexico City Noir!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Aguas & Otros Cuentos

Last summer, I published a book, Aguas & Otros Cuentos, for the first time in Cuba. It was a huge deal that I'll write a bit more about later. But this is a recent review of the book, which appeared in one of Cuba's official blogs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2nd Person Queer book club discussion in Philly

If you're in Philadelphia, check out Giovanni's Room (one of my very fave gay bookstores in one of my very fave cities)and their super smart women's book club. Tomorrow, January 7, they'll discuss the Second Person Queer, which includes one of my new stories, "Breath."

Monday, January 4, 2010

More kudos!

Ruins just keeps on!

The latest of the year-round ups to include Usnavy's story is the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mexico City Noir

I translated this incredibly fun book, the newest in the Akashic noir series!

Mexico City Noir.

El Universal in Mexico on U.S. Latino Lit

Always a surprise and a pleasure when Latin America takes note of U.S. Latino Lit! Click the headline for the full article.