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2010-11 Visiting Fellows

Maria Rita Corticelli
Independent Researcher

The generous support of the Friends of the Princeton University Library made possible my visit to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in September 2010. I came to Princeton to examine the personal papers of Cuban writer Antonio Benítez Rojo and other Cuban writers and intellectuals held at Princeton University Library. I discovered an intimate version of the Cuban Revolution and of the relationship between power and artistic creation and the quest for freedom of its more important intellectuals on the island and in the exile. The Princeton University Libraries’ preservation of these materials, and the generous research support of the Friends of the Library, were extremely valuable to my project.

The last three decades have witnessed the rising of a discussion on the role of Caribbean intellectuals in defining a new 'theoretical frame' to explain the Caribbean culture in a wider geopolitical scenario. Writers and thinkers from different linguistic areas of the Caribbean such as Antonio Benítez Rojo, Éduard Glissant, Wilson Harris and others, have contributed to this discourse with their fiction and essays. However, few intellectuals have embarked in a systematic study of the intellectual in the Caribbean. Following this inevitable autobiographical approach my project aimed to contribute to a better understanding of Antonio Benítez Rojo's intellectual journey analysing his own personal re-elaboration of the new theories he absorbed when living and working in the United States through a reading of his personal correspondence.

In order to understand the impact of Benítez Rojo's cultural journey had on his perception of the Caribbean as a whole, I had to analyse his correspondence and find the traces of the new environment he got in contact with the new cultural theories of the ’80, in particular structuralism, post-structuralism and post-modernism. Reading his letters, I found out that his new idea of the Caribbean as an integrated geographical area united under the same history of violence and colonization opened the doors to the multilingual and multidisciplinary Caribbean studies as we know them today. I also realised that these intelectuals achievements were born from his personal decision of not direct confrontation with Fidel Castro as well as a critical position towards the Cuban exile in the United States.

In addition, I was able to look at several other personal papers of Cuban writers. Their reading was very illuminating. In particular, the papers from protagonists of Cuban culture such as Reinaldo Arenas, Antón Arrufat, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Arcadio Díaz, Eliseo Diego, Virgilio Piñera among others, represented a unique opportunity for the use of primary sources in developing the project.

The collections held by the Princeton University Libraries enabled me to use primary sources in order to better understand the different realities and cultural expressions born as a result of the Cuban Revolution and its exiles. The materials I examined at the Princeton Libraries represent a large portion of the archival evidence for my research. I was able better to understand the connexiones between different cultural theories and the importance that for Benítez Rojo and other writers had the constant exchange of ideas with intellectuals in the West. I wish to thank the Friends of the Princeton University Library for their generous support. I also wish to thank Fernando Acosta Rodríguez and Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones for their constant support and enthusiasm for this project. I also want to thank the staff of the Firestone special collections with Daniel Linke for their help in accessing these collections and Linda Oliveira for her administrative support.

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