Author and Journalist Who Spent Forty Years in Exile Honored with Out of the Shadows at the Cuban Heritage Collection
by Sarah Block, Libraries Communications
The University of Miami Libraries Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) commemorates one hundred years since the birth of Cuban literary great Gastón Baquero (1914-1997) with Out of the Shadows, an exhibition featuring a collection of the author’s personal papers. Currently on display through June, the exhibition includes manuscripts, photographs, and private correspondence, which together provide insight into Gastón Baquero’s life during a span of forty years that he spent in exile from the island.
“Many of us grew up with the absence of Gastón Baquero in our studies of Cuban literature,” explained Eva Reyes Cisnero, a conservation assistant at the Libraries’ Conservation Lab who interned with CHC to help prepare Out of the Shadows. For the exhibition, Reyes organized materials from the poet and journalist’s life in exile, drawing principally from the Gastón Baquero Papers acquired by CHC in 1996. “I went from having no idea who Baquero was, to realizing there’s this writer who significantly impacted Cuban poetry, but who was banished from our cultural memory,” Reyes said.
An important literary force in Havana prior to the Cuban Revolution, Baquero gained recognition as a poet with the 1942 publications of Poemas and Saúl sobre su espada. He was a member of the avant-garde literary collective Orígenes, before he changed his focus to journalism, writing a column for the popular newspaper El Diario de la Marina. “Baquero used the column to voice his concerns about the future of Cuban society,” Reyes said.
Baquero went into exile soon after Fidel Castro’s takeover of the country in 1959, prompted by the arrival of a cautionary message, an invitation to meet with guerilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He fled to Madrid, Spain, that night, where he continued to live until his death in 1997 from natural causes. A facsimile of Baquero’s final article for El Diario de la Marina, a goodbye letter, is featured in the exhibition, along with a handful of publications and manuscripts of poems that he was able to take with him.
The exhibition focuses largely on the author’s life in the time that followed his sudden departure from the island. Hardcover poetry compilations—alongside original manuscripts of poems—demonstrate Baquero’s successful return to writing poetry following a fifteen-year hiatus from the craft. Within his first year in Spain he published Poemas escritos en España.
The exhibition also features Baquero’s personal communications with Cuban anthropologist, writer, and author Lydia Cabrera, which Reyes was able to track from both writers’ permanent collections at CHC (Cabrera’s was donated in 1991). Reyes mentioned that Baquero, true to his journalism background, always kept records—even copies of his outgoing mail. “Poets and writers who came of age during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s continued to write to each other throughout their lives,” said Meiyolet Mendez, CHC librarian and lead curator of Out of the Shadows.
The author’s correspondence with composer Aurelio de la Vega is also highlighted in the exhibition. De la Vega went into exile the same year as Baquero, and later composed a musical score to five of his poems from the 1984 compilation, Magias e invenciones.
Baquero’s reinstatement as a poet, however, never fully replaced his journalistic endeavors. He became a reporter for three Spanish newspapers and in the 1980s began contributing stories to The Miami Herald, which was when CHC initiated contact with the author about acquiring his personal papers and library. The Gastón Baquero Papers was the first major collection acquisition facilitated by the Amigos of the Cuban Heritage Collection.
“The acquisition enhanced not only the Cuban Heritage Collection, but the Libraries’ general collection as well,” said Chair Maria R. Estorino Dooling, explaining that many texts from the author’s personal collection are now a part of the Libraries’ Spanish language holdings. Acquiring the Gastón Baquero Papers was an immediate goal of the Amigos upon its formation in 1995, and they raised the funds to purchase it from the author. “The Baquero Papers represents and honors the history of support the Amigos has provided to the Cuban Heritage Collection,” Estorino said.
Out of the Shadows is now coinciding with National Poetry Month in the United States and the O, Miami Poetry Festival, running through April to further the reach of poetry in Miami-Dade County. CHC launched a Twitter profile for Baquero (@GBaquero_UMCHC) at the beginning of the month to support the festival’s goal, and will continue to tweet lines from Baquero’s works for the duration of the exhibition.
Out of the Shadows is on view through June in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion at the Cuban Heritage Collection, located on the second floor of the Otto G. Richter Library. For more information about the exhibition, please call 305-284-4900, or visit library.miami.edu/chc.
Photograph of Gastón Baquero from “Aniversario del ‘Club Atenas’ en el Centenario de Juan G. Gómez.” Revista Atenas. Oct. 1954