Cornelia Street Reading

Thanks to V. Hansmann and the Cornelia Street Cafe for hosting the Cuba Writers Program faculty reading. So great to see so many members of the CWP family!

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Meet Our Faculty: Alden Jones

Alden Jones’s memoir, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia, was hailed by Shelf Awareness as “a mesmerizing travelogue” and by The Rumpus as “a witty and daring chronicle.” In one chapter, Alden writes of her friendship with Cuban tour guide Darwin, the “tourist Apartheid” in Cuba, and Darwin’s past as a soldier in the civil war in Angola. You can read the original essay in The Smart Set, or an excerpt below.

Then find out more about the Cuba Writers Program or How to Apply Now!


Victor wanted to flee Cuba, but the only place he’d been was the battlefields of Angola.



It was around the time I met Victor that he started actively trying
to get out of Cuba. He worked in tourism, illegally, and between jobs
he fought for the paperwork to move to Spain. We worked together for a
summer, then I went back to the States, and he was still where I left
him when I came back to Cuba the following summer to work again. I was
employed by a program for American high school students that combined
educational travel with casual coursework. For me, being in Cuba,
though my job occupied me around the clock, was like a holiday.

When I saw Victor again he didn’t look well. His body, as before,
was solid: he was shorter than I was, which is to say below the height
of the average American woman, and his arms and back were sturdy and
masculine and muscled, his trunk square and solid. He was not lacking a
slight paunch. A wild head of curly, unruly hair that fell almost to
his shoulders gave Victor an animal virility. But his complexion was
different from the last time I’d seen him. His sun-darkened, freckled
skin was ashen, glossed with a sheen of sweat. He hacked a constant
cough. His facial expressions betrayed the status of the invisible
aspects of his health: He frequently had the fixed, pinched expression
of a man withstanding something.

“It’s my stomach,” he said. “The doctors are saying no more caffeine.”

That was horrible news. When Victor and I had time to relax, it was always over espressos at the hotel bar.

“Or cigarettes, or alcohol, and many kinds of food, especially greasy food.”

But the program we worked for was such that food was available in
abundance — though, in Cuba, even wealthy Americans had limited menu
choices, and most of the time these foods we ate were greasy, fried
chicken and pizza without tomato sauce and spaghetti served in a
shallow puddle of oil, and Victor ate what we ate. It was understood
that when we weren’t there, Victor, like most Cubans, was not precisely
sure where his next meal would come from. You didn’t turn down a
month’s worth of free food. You ate what you were served.

“The stress is not helping my situation,” Victor said. Every time he
went to Migración to check on his paperwork, the officials smirked at
him and told him the man he needed to see wasn’t in. The officials knew
who he was, knew that he worked illegally, knew that he lived in an
illegal apartment. They had no desire to help him get out of Cuba. Even
his relatives were deliberately making things difficult. One aunt in
particular had it in for Victor, had ratted on him when the officials
stopped by her house to ask if Victor resided in the house where he was
registered. Victor felt ganged up on, straitjacketed. He had a quick
temper, but exploding in Migración wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

Read the rest at The Smart Set.


Meet Our Faculty: Ann Hood

Ann Hood is a beloved teacher of creative writing who makes travel and place an integral part of her teaching agenda. She regularly travels internationally on assignment, and has taught in writing programs from Utah to Italy to Cape Cod. Read her essay on traveling to Uganda with her son from National Geographic Traveler below.

We’re very fortunate to have Ann on the Cuba Writers Program faculty this May. Find out more about the Cuba Writers Program, or learn how to apply now!

Letting Go In Uganda

Ann Hood

From the November 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler

For 18 years, whenever I looked beside me on a plane or car or train, my son, Sam, was there smiling up at me. I wanted to raise him to be adventurous, curious, a world traveler like me. Together we climbed temples in Cambodia, sailed Lake Titicaca, gazed at the Taj Mahal.

In that spirit, to celebrate his high school graduation, we went to Uganda to volunteer in schools in its capital, Kampala. Just before we left for our trip, college acceptances began to arrive. Sam had been by my side for millions of miles, yet he was about to embark on a journey where I naturally had to be left behind. We had traveled a lot of emotional miles too. Nine years earlier, his sister Grace had died, and Sam and I had navigated that journey together.

Now that his departure for college was imminent, I wondered how I could ever let him go.

Our weekends in Uganda were spent out of the city at national parks, tracking chimpanzees and stopping our Land Rover to allow a herd of elephants to pass. We saved our biggest adventure for last: a trip to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to half the world’s population of remaining mountain gorillas—about 340.

It was raining hard the night we arrived. “Tomorrow morning,” our guide told us, “you’ll hike for six hours through mud. The ranger will have a machete to cut through the vines and a gun to protect you from lions and poachers.” He smiled. “But then you will see the gorillas.” As soon as the guide left, I told Sam that this was a bad idea. We’d seen everything from baboons to warthogs. It would be OK to skip this. “You’re the one who taught me to go everywhere and try everything,” he said, disappointed. “You can’t back out.” How could I explain my fear to him? Not just of the danger in the jungle but of sending him into the world without me?

The next morning, in a steady rain, we spotted mountain gorillas within minutes. The ranger pointed to a 400-pound male, known as a silverback, approaching us. Our group squeezed close together as instructed. The gorilla walked down our tight line, pausing, then moving on. Until he reached me. He began to grunt and stomp. Then he walked behind me and punched me in the back, hard, sending me airborne. In the chaos that ensued, I heard Sam yell, “Mom!” Before I hit the ground, my son’s strong arms caught me and held me close before carefully letting me go. Our eyes met, and we both began to laugh. In that moment, I knew that Sam would be fine. And so would I.

Ann Hood is the author of the best-selling novels The Knitting Circle and The Red Thread and the memoir Comfort: A Journey Through Grief.