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The Arts

New work asks big questions at a critical moment

Medina to read from his new work of fiction, ‘The Cuban Comedy’

PUTNEY—“Something here seduced me,” explained Cuban-American poet, author, and translator Pablo Medina in describing his decision to make Vermont his home.

Medina, of Williamsville, has penned eight books that span poetry, fiction, memoir, and translation, including The Cuban Comedy, his new work of fiction released this month.

The story of two poets who fall in love in Havana, Cuba, the work covers the range of what it means to love during difficult times as it inquires about the meaning and impact of revolution.

The author will offer a book reading and discussion at Antidote Books at 120 Main St. on Friday, July 26, at 7 p.m.

Humble and easy to converse with, Medina came to New York from Cuba with his family at the age of 12. Having lived in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston for years, he visited Vermont for a decade before deciding in 2018 that he would need to call the state his home.

Medina has served as the president of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) and has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the United States Department of State.

Writing found him at age 16, as he navigated grief.

“A classmate died under suspicious circumstances,” Medina said. “My parents weren’t home, and I wrote a poem to express my feelings.”

The discovery of “the fact that I could write it down as poetry” most excited Medina. He shared that he, of course, went on to write poetry for girls he liked in school.

The road to words did not continue upon a straight path. Medina entered college and was on the path to become a doctor.

That was the plan until the night before a huge exam and he was forced to make a decision.

“I was preparing for a big chemistry exam for an organic chemistry course I was taking. I was also taking a course on Don Quixote by Cervantes,” he said. “That night, I knew I was going to be doing an all-nighter studying. And I put both books in front of me — the organic chemistry textbook on the left and Don Quixote on the right.”

Medina asked himself, “How am I going to spend this night?”

He chose Cervantes.

“That was a message to myself that I wanted to go in the direction of literature,” he said.

‘It’s all language’

Medina’s 2002 memoir, Exiled Memories: A Cuban Childhood, took seven years and was the product of his challenge to himself to write longer pieces.

When asked about the interconnectedness across four genres — poetry, creative nonfiction (via the memoir), fiction, translation — Medina says it’s all language, all literature. His goal is making it all as clear and as accurate as possible, given that his first language is Spanish.

“I think genres to a certain degree are artificial,” he said. “There are many books and novels that you can break up and make poetry out of the line.”

“A prime example of that is the novel Moby Dick. You can actually scan the sentences of Moby Dick into iambic pentameter,” Medina said, referencing an experiment that he tried long ago, one where he found that the work was transformed, becoming newly musical and beautiful.

In his latest work of fiction, The Cuban Comedy, the reader will experience a blend of vivid descriptions enveloped in flavors of satire, magical realism, comedy, and other layers amid a revolution in Cuba.

What does it mean to be an other?

In the current climate, Medina’s fiction comes at a critical moment. His work encourages us to ask ourselves: What does it mean to be an other? What does it feel like to be on the margins?

What becomes of aspirations within a landscape or circumstance that severs an individual from their ambitions? What happens when a place forces one to make the decision to cast off these things?

Medina’s work often explores identity, and his writing addresses his experience of being an immigrant or someone in exile and “coming to terms with these things: How I fit in or not fit in to the greater society around me.”

“I know it sounds cliché, but you write what you know or want to know,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #519 (Wednesday, July 17, 2019). This story appeared on page B1.

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