Cuban Literature

Overview Literature
  • First poem written in 1608
  • Amazing book sales on street markets
  • Havana is literary centre
  • Cuban authors

With Cuba being the cultural center that it is, naturally the island has a very rich literary history. Little is known about literature prior to the Spaniards, however, ever since the island was colonized, literary works began appearing, mostly in Spanish. The first known poem that was written in Cuba dates back to 1608, written by the Canarian Silvestre de Balboa and entitled “Mirror of Patience”. A Cuban author, Captain Don Santiago de Pita, wrote Cuba’s first theatre play, El Principe Jardinero y Fingido Cloridano, by the mid-18th century. Towards the end of this century, the first newspaper to be published on the island, Papel Periodico de La Habana, appeared.

Cuba’s most famous literary figure, is without a doubt José Martí, who was not only a poet and writer but also a lawyer. His ideas and beliefs regarding freedom were reflected in his literary works and made him a national hero. Nicolás Guillén is also a poet who made a name for himself, especially after the 1959 revolution. Well known contemporary Cuban authors include Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Barnet, José Lezama Lima, and Edmundo Desnoes.Much of contemporary Cuban literature focuses on politics. However, censorship in Cuba has affected artistic expression and the content not only of literary works, but other artistic productions.

There is much Cuban literature to be found in Cuba and particularly in Havana. Both new and old manuscripts and literary volumes are available here and it may be surprising to know that often some of the most prized and oldest books (some over 100 years old) can be found even in street markets. There is a certain restriction on tourists taking some of these valuable books out of the country, and as with certain pieces of art, special authorization is needed.

Check out our page on authors of Cuban literature to find more information.