Sunday, May 24, 2009

Women Among Us: Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas (Achy Obejas, photo courtesy of Depauw University)

Women Among Us: Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas is a brilliant, innovative, lyrical novelist and poet whose work is a motherlode of synthesis. She uses her solid background in journalism to report on culture, but with a poet's sensibility, using a combination of brevity and metaphor to animate across borders.

She was born in Cuba in 1956 and brought to the U.S. by her parents after the Cuban revolution at age six. She grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, with her parents expecting to eventually return to Cuba. Instead, in 1979 Achy moved to Chicago, where she has lived as an out dyke who writes with authority and grace on embracing multiple identities.

The biography up at her website states:

Achy's poetry and fiction have been published in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, Indiana Review, Story, La Gaceta de Cuba, Habana Elegante, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Best of Helicon Nine, Another Chicago Magazine, Abraxas, Antigonish Review, Bilingual Review, Conditions, Ikon, Interstate, Phoebe/George Mason University Review, Rambunctious Review, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, Sing Heavenly Muse!, Sinister Wisdom, Strong Coffee, Third Woman, and many others.

An award-winning journalist, she worked for more than ten years for the Chicago Tribune writing and reporting about arts and culture. Among literally thousands of stories, she helped cover Pope John Paul II's historic 1998 visit to Cuba, the arrival of Al-Queda prisoners in Guantánamo, the Versace murder, and the AIDS epidemic.

She writes regularly about Latin music for the Washington Post and about books for In These Times.

Her articles have appeared in the Village Voice, Vogue, Playboy, Los Angeles Times, MS, Weep,, Latina, Latin Girl, Poz en Español, The Nation, Out, Chicago Reader, The Advocate, Girlfriends, Windy City Times, High Performance, New City, Chicago Reporter, The Catalyst, Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times, Hispanic, La Raza, Hispanic Link (a bilingual national syndication service), and many others.

Achy's translation projects have included Maria Torres Piers' By Heart (Temple University Press); catalogue text for "Passionately Cuban," an art exhibition at the University of Albany, Albany, New York; catalogue text for the Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria; Picturing Cuba (University of New Mexico Press, 2002) by E. Wright Ledbetter; and articles for the Chicago Tribune. She was recently contracted by the family of the late Cuban poet laureate Nicolás Guillén to produce a new translation of his work, including the classic "Motivos de Son" (the only authorized English version was previously translated by Langston Hughes in 1948).

During her career, Achy has received a Pulitzer for a Tribune team investigation, the Studs Terkel Journalism Prize, several Peter Lisagor journalism honors, two Lambda Literary awards, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry, and residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale and the Virginia Center for the Arts, among other honors.

Her work has been translated into Spanish, German, Hungarian and Farsi. She has lectured and read her work in the U.S., Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Australia, and has served as the Springer Writer-in-Residence at the University of Chicago and the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai'i.

Achy Obejas is currently the Sor Juana Visiting Writer at DePauw University in Chicago.
Watch Achy Obejas read from her current novel Ruins at Galeria De La Raza in San Francisco on 14 January 2009:


“I like to think that a poem sort of floats above the banalities of things like calendars and clocks. And I like that space that poetry puts you in—where all logic is suspended.”

Not in Cars

dark danger in the shadows of the city city city driving
by the danger darkness urban building and the men men
that serve as girders beams the backbone of the danger
men in windows stories high indiscriminately lurching from
the speeding cars the freeway thieves that drop their
compliments their vile demands commands from rusting
cars on cracking crosstown roads twisting twisted shadows
grotesque mouths that vomit words like green white bullets
to the womyn on the sidewalks in the buildings not in cars

~~ from Sinister Wisdom #16, 1981

"It's just that sometimes other lives lived right alongside mine interrupt, barge in on my senses, and I no longer know if I really lived through an experience or just heard about it so many times, or so convincingly, that I believed it for myself--became the lens through which it was captured, retold and reshaped." ~~ from Memory Mambo


cry sorrow sorrow
coming with your dried snakes charm
charming the crazed and
the innocent with your lyrical
tales of the moon
you claim immortality
you think you'll find me there
the lost child torn from
you by demons that swirl and
burn amidst the golden
brown hair of your devil devil
oh cry sorrow with
your spells and the magic no
one doubts you own
the power that swallows everyone's
you claim life forever
using scars for tears and a
noise noise that shakes
beating all the passion
with a passion
the black sweet bruises and dark systems
wanting to wring them out of
me out of you
you claim life forever
again and again thinking
I'll be there steady ready
to take up the fight
of mother and daughter divided
unsatisfied forever
antagonistic cry sorrow
let your ovary
throb from the pain of my absence
I am the daughter the children
shredded castrated decapitated
in the arid desert
the blood red flames in your eyes
which serve as blinders
to keep you from seeing what
you wish not to see

take a white woman to lie
with you
clean smooth as
the veins plainly visible
through vinyl skin
rest your head on what
you claim so close to perfection
and take repose
rest rest
but when when all seems finally
there's a beat beat
a beat in your head
a pain in your abdomen

siempre por las
there's that fearful wailing

~~from Sinister Wisdom #16, 1981


Achy Obejas website
Her MySpace page
Bio at Voices from the Gaps
Interview with Achy Obejas about Days of Awe at the National Yiddish Book Center


Ruins, 2009, Akashic Books, ISBN-10 : 1933354690
This Is What Happened In Our Other Life (Body Language), 2007, Midsummer Nights Press, ISBN-10 : 0979420822
Days of Awe, 2001, Ballantine, ISBN-10 : 034543921X
Memory Mambo, 1996, Cleis Press, ISBN-10 : 1573440175
We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this?, 1994, Cleis Press, ISBN-10 : 093941693X

ONLINE WRITINGS AVAILABLE (Available at her website via Other Writings)

"My Own Private Cuba", an account by Obejas -- in both English and Spanish -- of her most recent visit to Cuba, published in The Chicago Tribune, 19 January 2002

"The End Of The Affair", an article by Obejas about Cuba and Alma Guillermoprieto's memoir Dancing with Cuba, published in The Nation on 15 March 2004

"From Havana With Love", an article by Obejas on how "A new generation faces Cuba's dark reality", published in The Village Voice in February 2001