Inés María Martiatu Terry (Lalita)
Feb 2, 1942 July 3, 2013
The esteemed Cuban writer, theatre critic, scholar and social activist, Inés María Martiatú Terry died July 3, 2013 in Havana, Cuba. Martiatu was an ardent advocate of African culture and narrative throughout Latin America. As an Afro-Cuban she was a courageous voice for black causes and perspectives. She confronted conflicts about race, identity, discrimination, and marginalization of women in her thought-provoking books and essays. She continued to write until the time of her recent illness.
Martiatus written legacy of scholarly and literary works consists of fifteen books, countless articles and essays, and a number of academic and social contributions. Her publications have appeared throughout Cuba as well as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Guadalupe and Peru. Among the numerous awards and recognitions she received were the Critics Prize from the journal Tablas (1984); the Short Story Prize in Womens Themes given by the Colegio de México and Casa de las Américas (1990); the Razón de Ser grant for literary and artistic creation from the Alejo Carpentier Foundation (2002). In 2002, she also received the prestigious Recognition of Distinction for National Culture conferred by the Cuban Ministry of Culture and the Commission of the State. And most recently her article ¿Y las negras qué? Pensando el afrofeminismo en Cuba, was finalist for the Casa de las Américas Prize for Extraordinary Studies on the Black Presence in America and the Caribbean (2012). Martiatu was also an honored member of UNEAC (Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba).
The Cuban poet, essayist and theatre critic, Waldo González López, praises her as an intellectual in her unique and important literary productionin essays and narrative creations [and] as an investigation into Afro-Cuban culture and its connection with the setting, the arts, women and society.
Cuban scholar, Daisy Rubiera explains: We had a number of projects, and we were always aware of the need to include the voice of black women, not only in the debate about racial conflicts currently taking place within the country, but also those that arise as a counter-discourses opposed to the voices that historically have been recognized. Afrocubanas: historia, pensamiento y prácticas culturales is an example of this (inclusion). The lauded director and actor Rubén Darío Salazar states Cuban theatre studies has lost one of its defenders and scholars of the artistic scene connected to African culture. Through (Martiatu) I learned to love the legend of Okín, the bird that couldnt live in a cage . . . She helped me to feel pride in my mixed lineage and to know about the black and mestizo puppets in my country.
David Rade, her editor at Swan Isle Press, said She was an eloquent and brave voice for justice, justice for all men and women, for people of color, for those at the margins, for those who have so little and deserve more.
Her books include various scholarly works published by La Habanas Letras Cubanas such as Teatro de Eugenio Hernández (1989); Remolino en las aguas y otras obras de Gerardo Fulleda León (2004); Una pasión compartida: María Antonia (2004.); El bello arte de ser. Antología de teatro de Tomás González ( 2005); Bufo y Nación. Interpelaciones desde el presente (2008). She also published a collection of short stories Sobre las olas y otros cuentos/ Over the Waves and Other Stories (Swan Isle Press, Chicago 2008), the anthology Re-Pasar El Puente. Antología de teatro de Ediciones El Puente (Editorial Letras Cubanas 2011) and most recently an edited volume co-edited with Daisy Rubiera Afrocubana: Historia, pensamiento y prácticas culturales (Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2011).
Born to a family of black professionals, as a young girl, Lalita⎯the name she was known by all her family, friends and colleagues⎯studied music at the Conservatorio Municipal de La Habana, now called Amadeo Roldán. She later earned a degree in History at the Universidad de La Havana, where she took courses alongside artists such as Sara Gómez and Nancy Morejón. She went on to work in journalism and write for the magazines Mella of the Juventud Socialista and Revolución y Cultura. Additionally she wrote for the Asociación de Jóvenes Rebeles as well as the newspaper Hoy Domingo and its daily edition Hoy.
In 1960 she was a student in the Ethnology and Folklore Seminary, founded by the renowned ethnologist and musician Argeliers León, where among her peers were the ethnologists Rogelio Martínez Furé and Alberto Pedro Díaz. Later Lalita would found the Grupo Teatro de Arte Popular, thus working with actors and directors such as Tito Junco and Gerardo Fulleda León in addition to the director, playwright and recipient of the Premio National de Teatro, Eugenio Hernández Espinosa.
More and more of her time was dedicated to what would become her passion, Afro-Cubans and especially the plight of black Cuban women. She participated in various conferences and seminaries around the world dedicated to themes relating to the African Diaspora as it pertained to her native land. From Cuba, she contributed to two blogs, afrocubana.wordpress.com and Teatro Afroamericano. And recently she began to write about hip hop and socially conscious rap music further exemplifying the breadth of her cultural interests and knowledge.
For those that knew her, Lalitas affability, compassion, patience and wisdom were quickly apparent. Never one to judge, she possessed the knowing gaze of the elders and the unhurried calm of the wise. Always giving of her time and attention, she had an impeccable memory and abundance of knowledge. She was known to speak at length without notes or outlines and yet recall places and names that only the most learned could fully appreciate. She loved Cuba and her people immensely and took a great amount of pride in her homeland. She celebrated the Cuban spirit and what some deemed as her own cultural cimarronaje while she advocated for the most marginalized sectors of society and willing to take the risks that go with being a social critic, but always a critic with compassion and understanding on many levels.
Later in life she was physically impeded by rheumatoid arthritis limiting her to a wheelchair and equally complicating the ease in which she corresponded. Never one to complain, in the months prior to her death, she was pleased to have finally moved to a first floor home and enthusiastically continuing with her upcoming writing projects. Her body, nevertheless, unequivocally and incrementally betrayed her even as her mind remained perceptive. She was the scholar that many would aspire to be, the mentor that many would hope to find, and now she joins the realm of the African ancestors about whom she often wrote.
Lalitas longtime confidant and collaborator, the acclaimed intellectual Alberto Abreu states the following: Ive always lamented the small bits of knowledge thats lost with each death. Lalita was the daughter of [the Orisha god] Oshun, and often we would talk about espirtismo and the afterlife. She had a peculiar way to explain the different events of her life, her destiny, history from this perspective, from a knowledge that is other. Thats why now that she has passed, that shes in the process of converting into one of the great spirits that the (santería priests) babalaos or the oriaté invoke before beginning a ceremony, Im going to ask Olofi and Olordumare that grant her plenty of light so that her spirit shines on me. She leaves behind an unfinished novel and an edited volume, her three adult children, a nation in mourning and a world of admirers.
⎯Emmanuel Harris II, professor of Spanish, University of North Carolina-Wilmington; translator of Over the Waves and Other Stories/Sobre las Olas y Otros Cuentos (Swan Isle Press,2008).
Emmanuel D. Harris II, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Spanish and Africana Studies
UNCW Dept. of Foreign Languages and Literatures