In 1970, the year Wendy Guerra was born, her family moved from a small village to the city of Cienfuegos, on Cuba's southern coast. "It was a place for swimming and thinking," she recalls. A logical starting point for someone dedicated to swimming against the tide.
She began writing poetry almost as soon as she could swim. Her first collection, Platea a oscuras, won her a prize from the University of Havana when she was barely 17. She took a degree in filmmaking at Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte, but she managed to avoid any kind of career in broadcast media. She kept writing.
Specifically, she kept a diary. She kept loads of diaries, letting them stack up around her in her flat in Havana's Miramar district, which she shares today with her husband, the piano player Hector López-Nussa. A fine hobby, diary-keeping, but not exactly one that puts you on the path to literary stardom, right? Wrong. Guerra's diaries formed the basis for her intimate (yet nominally fictional) first novel, Todos Se Van (They All Leave), which was published in 2006 and has become an international bestseller. Following its young protagonist through childhood and adolescence, Todos Se Van is heartbreaking and hilarious and manages to sound fresh even as it chronicles the painfully obvious troubles of modern Cuba.
"I like the diary as a narrative form," Guerra says, "The story unravels like a ribbon, which becomes a sort of narrative structure in itself."
The more she plumbs her inner depths, the more she wrestles with her personal demons, the more Wendy Guerra has come to the attention of the public in Cuba and around the world. And she doesn't exactly shy away from the spotlight. If there was a prize for Most Photogenic Poet, Guerra would win hands down.
"One of the things of which I'm most proud is simply to have published my work," she says. "My mother [Cuban poet Albis Torres] was a great writer, much better than I am, and she never got published. She was never able to detach herself from her work long enough to show it to anyone. And the one time she did, her work was rejected."
Her mother was the first person to suggest Guerra keep a diary. Another potent source of inspiration was Anaïs Nin, the legendary diarist to whom Guerra bears an uncanny resemblance. Nin has been the subject of Guerra's ongoing research both in Havana (Nin's parents were born here) and in Paris. Guerra plans to publish her work in the form of an "apocryphal" diary in Nin's voice, to be called Posar desnuda en la Habana (Posing Nude in Havana).
When we ask Guerra to take us somewhere in Havana that means something to her, she suggests the Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes, specifically the wing that houses the museum's collection of art from the 1980s and '90s. "My biggest influence comes from the visual arts," she explains. "My diaries aren't just about reporting on my times. No, no, no the act of keeping a diary is a visual `gesture' in itself. This part of the museum situates everything that we've been through in terms of aesthetics. I think that my generation's aesthetic avant-garde is not in literature or philosophy. Regrettably it is in the plastic arts. I have managed to accept that. The colours, the text that accompanies all these works, the concept, the form, the jokes, the playfulness, their farcical nature it's all what I am trying to achieve, humbly, modestly, in my own way."
She stops in front of one work, a painting by her ex-husband Humberto Castro, who came to prominence in the 1980s Cuban art scene and subsequently moved to Paris and now lives in Miami. He is one of those who left.
- Platea a oscura, 1987
- Cabeza rapada, 1996
- Todos se van (They All Leave), Barcelona: Bruguera, 2006. Todos se van won the first Bruguera prize in 2005.
- Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Nude in Havana) : diaro apocrifo de Anaïs Nin (to be published)