As announced previously on my blog, tonight I attended a fascinating panel discussion on the Internet, new media, and their impact on Cuban literature at the Americans Society moderated by literary critic Rachel Price of Princeton and Cuban writer Jose Manuel Prieto of Seton Hall.
We were treated to an all-star cast with three leading Cuban writers and bloggers present in the flesh (Ernesto Hernandez Busto, Abilio Estevez, and Jose Manuel Prieto), and three others virtually present via texts, videos, and/or kilobytes (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Amir Valle, and Yoani Sanchez).
The evening began with the second of the two short videos below that Orlando and I recorded in La Plaza de Armas last month while I was in Havana (you can watch them below or here and here on YouTube).
We thought (correctly it turned out) that it would be good to have them ready as a "Plan B" in case Orlando did not get his exit permit from the Cuban government to attend the event. He already had his US visa in hand when I met him, but no tarjeta blanca was forthcoming for this blogographer, twitero, and writer. The same was true, of course, for blogger Yoani Sanchez.
The video was followed by a sharp, powerful text read by Jose Manuel Priteo, which was written and sent from Berlin by Amir Valle who had visa problems of his own. (It turns out he did receive his visa but too late to attend the event.) Valle's text gave a necessary genealogy of past encounters between Cuban writers and an increasingly fearful state apparatus of control from the early-1980s until today as first computers, then Internet, and finally blogs, web 2.0, twitter, and other forms of mobile technology made their way into Cuba.
Abilio, Ernesto, Jose Manuel, and Rachel then discussed the current state of the Internet and blogs in Cuba in light of some of their own past experiences and what that has meant for the development of Cuban literature. They seemed to get hung up on the question of whether the lack of effective Internet access in Cuba has deformed the way that writers use the web to create and share their work, and on the related question of whether what is published on the Web in Cuba can or should be considered literature.
However, there was recognition that we are in the presence of a new, dynamic, and unpredictable genre of communication that has already altered the rules of writing and the old divisions among genres.
The evening ended with a 10-minute video of Yoani presenting her new book Havana Real followed by a brief Q&A.