Cuban Authors

Overview Authors
  • Alejo Carpentier
  • José Martí
  • Nicolás Guillén
  • José María Heredia

Nicolás Guillén

Nicolás Guillén (1902 - 1987)

This well-known Afro-Cuban poet was born in 1902 in Camagüey, Cuba, to parents Argelia Batista y Arrieta and Nicolas’ Guillén y Urra, of mixed African and Spanish decent. Not only was he a great poet, Guillén is also remembered for being a gifted writer, journalist and social activist. His father, also a journalist, was the victim of an assassination by the Cuban government at the time. Racism was a major issue in those times and it was a difficult time for the colored Guillén family. Racism and Cuba’s racial structures were some of the main topics Guillén began writing about.

He wrote a collection of poems, contributed to a literary supplement of a Havana newspaper called Diario de la Marina and published several articles addressing these issues. Some of his most famous work include the collection of eight short poems entitled Motivos de son, composed in Afro-Cuban vernacular. These poems were inspired by the Son (a musical form which is said to have preceded popular salsa) and talk of the everyday life of a Cuban black at the time. This work marked an important step forward in black culture and black Cuban literature.

Guillén was also very much involved in the politics of his country and identified with blacks not only in Cuba but in other places around the world. He stood up for black artists saying that they should be free to "express our individual dark-skinned selves without shame." In 1959, Fidel Castro put Guillén in charge of structuring a new cultural policy for the state and establishing the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. Guillén was president of this union in 1961. He continued writing and publishing mainly poetry until he passed away in Havana in 1987.