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Living and Writing in Havana

A Conversation with Leonardo Padura and Lucia Lopez Coll

Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and filmmaker, scriptwriter Lucia Lopez Coll discuss contemporary ideas of writing in Havana.

Living and Writing in Havana

Leonardo Padura

He hopes to bring a 'synchronic look at Cuba' through his novels.

Story by Deisy Moreno, LAI Intern

UCLA Latin American Institute- On Wednesday, October 17, Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and Cuban filmmaker and scriptwriter Lucia Lopez Coll spoke at the Lydeen Library at UCLA as part of their UC Tour through the UC-Cuba Academic Initiative. The duo previously spoke at UC Irvine and will continue their conversation series at other UCs. The event was co-sponsored by the Program on Caribbean Studies and the Spanish and Portuguese Department.

The conference started with the film Vivir y escribir en la Habana [Living and Writing in Havana]. The films documents the life of Padura, from his struggles of writing to why he has not left the small town in Cuba in which he was born. Through his books, Padura has brought attention to the changes happening in Cuba, economically, politically, and culturally. He hopes to bring a “synchronic look at Cuban life” through his novels.

Padura is most known for his Havana series about the fictional character Mario Conde, which has become a household name not only with readers in Cuba but also with those in other parts of the world and is loved by both men and women. Conde is described by one of the readers as the “perfect representative of what it is to be Cuban.” Readers alike tend to relate to this character, as Conde depicts the life of a detective who struggles with everyday concerns, “not the typical superhero.” To many, Padura is a contemporary writer who reflects in an “honest and exact way the Cuba that we are living.” These stories were written during a period of extreme crisis in Cuba, from 1990-1997, and follow the changes happening in today. Padura mentioned that the current book he is writing also depicts the positive changes that are currently taking place.

Regarding the writing process, Padura admitted that it is a painful process, comparing writing to giving birth. While it is not physically painful, “you start pulling out necessary stuff from the inside...characters start coming out, if it is not painful, it can be seen in the literature.” Padura believes that literature should include something “painful that [the writer] is trying to express.”

An audience member asked Padura about the differences she perceived when she visited Cuba during the time of crisis and again five years later, describing the people during her first visit as full of innocence in a “beautiful world”. Her second encounter however, was a place of scarcity and new discoveries. Padura replied by stating that in fact it was not a “beautiful” period, there was “hope, then came desperation similar to that during the crisis of the ‘90s, and now there is pragmatism.” There may have been “levels of cynicism, opportunism, corruption” by individuals and the government as people did what was necessary to survive.

When it comes to working alongside Padura, Lopez Coll explained that they work well because they complement each other’s work style. Lopez Coll and Padura both admitted that it gets difficult when they have different ideas with their projects and their work pace, but that in the end it all works well because of their different strengths.

The talk was in Spanish and if you would like to listen to the conversation, please find the podcast below:

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