Achy Obejas

writer & translator


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Achy Obejas: “Para mi era importante encontrar Cuba”

“Pero Cuba es complicada; los cubanos son complicados y Achy Obejas es complicada. Reconocida por su labor traduciendo al español a Junot Díaz, una de las principales voces de la literatura contemporánea estadounidense, Obejas es y no es la típica cubana, si tal cosa existe. Periodista durante casi diez años en The Chicago Tribune, se ha dedicado a diversas actividades, desde la publicidad hasta el activismo político, desde la dramaturgia, hasta la edición de libros; no obstante, su constante y su más grande orgullo, reside en la escritura literaria.”

Achy is interviewed by José Eduardo González in Vice Versa Magazine.


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Apply now for Drunken Boat’s 10-day Retreat in Sardinia!

Join Drunken Boat for a 10-day program bringing writers and artists from around the world together with Sardinian writers and artists for a generative and collaborative retreat. The program will culminate in the annual celebration of Grazia Deledda, winner the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926. Work generated during the residency will be considered for publication in a special Drunken Boat feature.

Details and application here.


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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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