Author Severo Sarduy
Novelist, poet, painter, and literary theorist, Severo Sarduy was one of the most groundbreaking Latin American writers of the 20th-Century. Born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1937, he moved to Havana in 1956 to study medicine, but soon gave up his scientific pursuits for the arts. Following Fidel Castro’s victory in the Cuban Revolution, Sarduy won a scholarship to study art history in Europe. He boarded a ship to Madrid in December of 1959 and, a gay man viewing Castro’s increasingly homophobic regime from abroad, never went back to the island.
Often homoerotic and imbued with allusions to art, the absent or decaying body, the history of science, jazz and folk music, insular landscapes, and the author’s Spanish, African, and Chinese heritage, Sarduy’s poetry has rarely appeared in translation, but his literary oeuvre was vast and included the landmark novel From Cuba with a Song (1967), translated by Suzanne Jill Levine in 1972. Sarduy’s third book, Cobra (1971), won France’s Medici Prize and high praise from Roland Barthes, who called it, “a paradisiac text . . . the pledge of continuous jubilation, the moment when by its very excess verbal pleasure chokes and reals into bliss.” For his part, Richard Howard hailed Sarduy as a writer who “has everything . . . so brilliant, so funny, and so bewilderingly apt in his borrowings, his derivations, as well as in his inventions.”
Indeed, Sarduy was so prolific with his verbal innovations that Gabriel García Márquez once called him the best writer in the Spanish language. His neo-baroque style influenced such Spanish-language novelists as Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Goytisolo, and Carlos Fuentes while his involvement in Parisian literary circles and work with the publishing house Editions du Seuil is responsible for bringing One Hundred Years of Solitude into the French language. From 1960 until the time of his death, the poet lived in Paris, where he worked with Roland Barthes, Phillipe Sollers, and Julia Kristeva, among many others, on the literary magazine Tel Quel. Sarduy died due to complications with AIDS in 1993.