Achy Obejas

writer & translator


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THE COWBOY BIBLE reviewed at Bookslut

“The translation of The Cowboy Bible is no mean feat. Achy Obejas, acclaimed fiction writer and translator of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao into Spanish, embraces Velázquez’s irreverent linguistic play and neologisms and makes them her own in an English that revels in invention. In Obejas’s hands, pop culture references find their own idiomatic English that evokes the language of the blues: “The cousins, a female group from Argentina, sang Watch your hands, Antonio, ‘cuz Mama’s in the kitchen.” Given the repeated evocation of the legend of Robert Johnson’s crossroads deal with the Devil, these echoes gained in translation are not inappropriate. Little pearls like “all that yakking’s gonna win you a smacking” give a new life to Velazquez’s verbal acrobatics. Velázquez’s book celebrates the bastardization of language; Obejas’s translation keeps the party going. We can hope for more collaborations from this well-matched duo in the future.”

Review by Charlotte Whittle, in full, here.


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RUINS discussed at The Museum of Art and Archaeology’s Art of the Book Club

“Cuban-American novelist Achy Obejas also explores the complex collage of Cuban identity. Her novel “Ruins” examines her native country in wake of the end of the Soviet Union and its subsidies for its former communist ally in the Caribbean. With its Cuban-centered theme written by a Cuban-American novelist targeting a U.S. audience, “Ruins” (like the exhibition) also deals with fluid cultural boundaries. “Ruins” sought to redefine Cuba by understanding its culture from within, not just refracted through Cold War ideology or nostalgia for the Cuba of old movies.”

Read more about the event, and others, here.


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PAPI reviewed in Newcity

Jac Jemc reviewed Papi for Newcity Lit, and included some of Achy’s impressions of translating Indiana’s novel:

“Language with such pulse and intensity, easily traceable to the author’s roots as musician, might pose a challenge for a lesser translator. Obejas, a Cuban-American writer well-regarded for her own prose who’s proven her Dominican Spanish translation skills with Junot Diaz’s last two books, says that the lyricism was where she derived the most pleasure while working on this project. ‘Making all that crazy imagery and the rhythm of that voice work,’ she says, ‘there were some real eureka moments in that. There’s always a challenge when there’s code-switching, but this time it wasn’t that.’ Obejas compliments Indiana’s openness in the process, as well: ‘She was great—helpful and responsive, but not intrusive. She totally got that the translation was its own thing.'”


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FSG Works in Progress: Island Verses: A Cuban Poetry Primer, ed. Ilan Stavans

Achy’s translation of Nicolás Guillén’s poem, “Big Lipped Nigga,” appears on FSG’s Works in Progress page. It will be included in Ilan Stavans’s forthcoming Island Verses: A Cuban Poetry Primer.

Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989)
Big Lipped Nigga, translated by Achy Obejas

Why you get so mad
when they call you big-lipped nigga,
when ya mouth’s divine,
negro bembón?

Big-lipped as you iz,
you got everythin;
you live off grace,
you got everythin.

An still you bitch,
negro bembón;
in the thick of everythin,
negro bembón,
stiff white drill suit,
negro bembón;
two-toned shoes,
negro bembón.

Big-lipped as you iz,
you got everythin;
you live off grace,
you got everythin.


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“A Translation of Rita Indiana’s PAPI Is a Reading Experience”

A review of Papi in Third Coast Review!

“Masterfully translated by Achy Obejas, the woman responsible for bringing Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to english, the lyricism and endless flow of scenery in Papi reminds me of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” The text explores the ugliest parts of dominican culture: machismo, extreme wealth disparity, corruption, infidelity, and sexism.”


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Queen Mobs reviews Papi

“Indiana’s debut novel is the first to receive English translation, at the hands of the industrious, incomparable Achy Obejas.

Papi embraces the familiar trope of a child who is simultaneously enamored by and deathly afraid of her father. The novel follows the unnamed narrator’s adventures –both real and imagined– as she grows up and the veneer of Papi’s outsize character fades. But it’s a typical story told in totally atypical way.”

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