Among Books

Osmel Almaguer

Street Theater in Old Havana.  Photo: Caridad
Street Theater in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

“Among Books” is a Cuban television program whose episodes are broadcast for about 12 minutes each.  It is designed to promote certain works and to share more about writers from our country.  The guests are selected by the executive staff of the Cuban Book Institute, which I represent as a consultant to the program.

My job is to ensure that the logistics of the writers are taken care of; I see to their tickets, transportation, lodging, script coordination, the recording date and a host of other details of which a single flaw can ruin all my work.

I’ve sometimes found myself in tight corners because in this work the unexpected is common. That’s when I have to improvise, always under the threat that if a writer complains to my bosses I could end up being disciplined, because the word of any one of them is weightier than mine.

In my view, though many of them have fine literary qualities, others -independent of their talent- are important because of their political resumes in the cultural life of our country.

This was the case of one of the most important intellectuals in Cuba.  Her writing has been extremely important and her prestige rises to the height of Cuban intellectuality thanks to her work around the 1953 Moncada Barracks events in association with Fidel.  This was what transformed her into the columnist of the “Centennial Generation.”

When she was one of the ones chosen to be on “Among Books,” everything was taken care of as usual – until the day of the recording.

She arrived two hours early and had to wait for the film crew to arrive.  By 11:00 a.m. she had already spent a long time waiting and had become upset.  Just before the interview was to begin, she turned off the microphone and left irate uttering, “I’m leaving because they invited me for another job in another place where they pay well, while here they aren’t paying me anything.” Around me almost everyone was left astonished.

I never expected to hear such words coming from her mouth.  She’s part of a generation that today fills the media with words instilling ideals of patriotism, revolution, honesty, spirituality and material indifference among the younger generation.

I later found out that she is always “struggling for money.”  Though this in itself is not bad, what disappointed everyone present was her slight to an institution trying to pay her homage.

I was left with the clear understanding that people like her are one thing on television… and something else in real life.


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

One thought on “Among Books

  • Sad . . . Very sad. This is the behavior one might expect from a prima donna actor in the US who . . . well, you know! On behalf of nobler humanity, I apologize.

    On the topic of “struggling for money,” one bourgeois idea that was smuggled into the socialist movement was a deprecation of material incentives. The idea that to wish for and go after material gain, for oneself and for one’s family, is “morally wrong” was brought in to sabotage the workers’ cooperative economic movements.

    A parallel was drawn between the money lust of the capitalist and the natural desire of the worker for workplace ownership and ownership of the material wealth produced by his/her labor. This was a bizarre parallel, but it took root in the state-socialist dogma that engulfed the movement in the latter 1800s.

    In truth, there is no inherent contradiction between material and moral incentives. These must work together in a natural, healthy synergistic way to build authentic socialism.

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