Diary of a recent writing program in Cuba (with photos)
January 23, 2023 § 2 Comments
For the second annual Havana residency of the Newport MFA in Creative Writing I had the distinct pleasure of working with my friend and distinguished fellow novelist Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology, The Puzzle Master (forthcoming from Random House), and numerous other books, and the horror-lit columnist for the The New York Times.
In addition to being a writing program this trip was also a cultural trip to Cuba, full of the kind of rich, special visits and encounters that are possible to arrange with the help of an amazing Havana ground crew, which in this instance was headed up by a talented young Cuban guide and fixer, Miguel Espinosa.
I thought it might be nice for those who participated (and really anyone else out there who is considering a non-touristy trip to Cuba) to have a day by day summary of events. ¡Buen provecho!
Flights arrive. Everyone meets up at our main casa in Habana Vieja for orientation & intros. Group dinner at one of Havana’s many delicious and atmospheric paladares (private restaurants). It begins!
We explore Habana Vieja via bici-taxi, which is a fun way to see regular Cuban neighborhoods sort of incognito, or at least without standing out the way a large group of walking tourists would. We visit a neighborhood “agro” produce market, a shop selling items used in Afro-Cuban religious worship (70% of Cubans are practitioners), and stop to talk about the system of “libros de abastecimiento,” the subsidized food-rationing program that’s been in place since the just after the triumph of the Revolution in the early sixties.
After this, a visit to the Cuban collection at the Museo de Bellas Artes with my old friend Ortelio, a distinguished art historian who heads up the museum’s education department. Spectacular!
A relatively light lunch at Cinco Esquinas, a pleasant streetside café near the museum, followed by our first writing workshop up on the lovely shaded terrace of our casa. For non-writing participants, a visit to the home/studio of Mabel Poblet, a stunningly talented installation artist whose work is already gracing public spaces and distinguished collections around the world.
Later we meet up on the terrace of our main casa for cocktails and an illustrated lecture on Cuban history, followed by dinner up on the terrace of Ivan Chef Justo, one of Havana’s finest paladares. I feel like the trip has gotten off to a good start!
Morning workshop for the writers and a trip to the Colón Necropolis for everyone else: Havana’s haunting “city of the dead” whose little avenues are lined with exquisite tombs and statuary in Carrara marble, much of it cracked and in decay from years of exposure to the sun and the island’s Caribbean-maritime climate.
Group lunch at Fusterlandia, where the entire neighborhood has been made into a whimsical ceramic work of the imagination by internationally famous artist Miguel Fuster. The lunch is damn good too; today we had “guajo” (wahoo), caught the day before just off the north coast by the artist’s son, Alex.
Afterwards we head back into Habana Vieja for a specially organized visit to a rehearsal at the Lizt Alfonso school of dance. It’s hard to express how incredible it is to visit such accomplished young artists in their own working space. Witnessing the accomplishment and joy that is the result of so much applied hard practice as well as talent is a deeply inspiring thing—perhaps especially for those of us who aspire to creative accomplishments of our own.
We finish the day up at La Cabaña fortress for pizza, seven-year-old rum, and a faculty reading. We stick around for the famous Cañonazo ceremony, commemorating the nightly cannon shot that used to signal the closing of the gates and the pulling of a boom chain across the harbor, back in the days when Havana was a walled city besieged by English pirates.
This morning we visit the house of Adrián, a Babalawo, or high priest, of the Afro-Cuban religion commonly known as santería. Adrián gives us a clear and fascinating insider’s look at the religion, which is based on Yoruba deities or orishas associated with aspects of the human character and various natural elements. Santería is a nature-based and highly inclusive spiritual practice; as it was strictly forbidden for long periods of Cuban history it became syncretized to Catholicism, widely practiced in secret at the household level. The Afro-Cuban religions are far too complex to give their full due here, but again, as they’re practiced at home by around 70% of the population, they’re absolutely central to understanding the island’s life and culture.
After this we attend another inspiring rehearsal/performance, this one from a dynamic flamenco/Afro-Cuban fusion company known as Habana Compás. Soaringly beautiful and impossible to describe, and like the dance school yesterday, deeply inspiring. We leave with a feeling of energy and durable joy.
A great traditional Cuban lunch at Doña Eutimia, one of Havana’s oldest and finest paladares. Then the writers meet on the terrace for another workshop while the cultural group heads to Vedado for a fun and informative Art Deco Tour organized by our amazing Havana ground team.
Back up on the terrace Danielle gives a fascinating craft talk on novel openings, followed by an illustrated lecture by yours truly on Hemingway in Cuba. The group then splits up for independent dinners.
One jolly crew heads out to one of my all-time favorite Havana watering holes, the eccentric and extremely atmospheric Café Sia Kara. The incredible house jazz trio has the night off, so we settle for a pair of excellent vocalists accompanied by a pianist performing their original and dynamic array of Cuban standards, along with a bit of Edith Piaf. Super fun!
This morning we visit Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s estate a twenty minute drive from Havana that was his principal residence for more than two decades.
It’s even more magical than usual today in that we’ve received permission to conduct an on-site book discussion of The Old Man & the Sea, which turns out to be a pleasant and lively conversation incorporating not just the writers but the entire group. If you haven’t re-read this novella recently, I highly recommend it. It’s a towering work of literature certainly, but also just a highly enjoyable read page to page and an incredibly life-affirming one too in these days of global environmental crisis. Read it again and I think you’ll see what I mean. Especially if you’re planning a trip to Cuba!
We stop by La Terraza de Cojímar, the real-life setting for the book, which is unchanged from the 1950s when Hemingway was a regular here and truly stands as one of the great physical landmarks of world literature.
After a deliciously authentic Cuban country lunch at the paladar El Ajiaco, we load up for the two and a half hour journey south and east to Playa Larga, the small fishing village at the north end of the Bay of Pigs that is to be our home for the next three days. Upon arrival, we move into our beachside casas and celebrate our arrival with a delicious fresh seafood dinner on the porch overlooking the bay. Paradise found!
First thing this morning part of the group goes on a bird walk in the eastern section of the Cienega de Zapata National Park accompanied by my good friend, local biologist and park ranger Kiko.
There are a lot of great birds out here! But look at this morning’s most notable sighting, a tocorrorro, or Cuban trogon. Nice one, am I right?
We head over to a place called Caleta Buena for lunch and snorkeling. Danielle leads us in a generative writing exercise and we relax and enjoy one of the most beautiful spots on this part of the coast. The color of this water on this part of the coast always astounds me, though it makes sense given the character of the greater ecosystem. More on this tomorrow.
Back at our lovely casas on the beach I give a craft talk on sympathetic characters, then it’s cocktails and relaxing independent dinners. The pace of life is nice and slow here on the island’s Caribbean coast. Playa Larga is a beautiful spot, a good place to reflect, meditate, write, and/or simply enjoy life moment-by-moment.
Today we travel deep into Cienaga de Zapata National Park with our knowledgeable friend Kiko. This is a beautiful national park and an important one, encompassing the largest protected mangrove area in the entire Caribbean basin. Mangroves are essential to tropical ecosystems—they act as a filtration system, creating the crystalline-azure waters we’ve been enjoying these last few days, and are also an essential nursery for the small fish, crustaceans, and other life that form the base of the food chain in this stunningly rich ecosystem.
Our first stop is a place called las Salinas de Brito, one of this hemisphere’s best spots for observing migratory and endemic avian life. I know that not everyone is a birder so I will resist the temptation to put ALL my bird pics here, though here are several.
I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that even the non-birders were impressed, and dare I say even awed, by all the beautiful creatures we saw and how many of them there were populating this landscape (more than 40 species in the end, over two days).
From las Salinas we embarked on an adventure deeper into the Caribbean wilderness by poleboat.
Our destination is the remote wilderness island known as Cayo Venado. Traversing the small cayo on foot we have a chance to observe at close quarters two endemic Cuban species in the wild, a reptile, the Cuban iguana, and a mammal, the Cuban jutía.
The crossing by poleboat was also amazing: it’s a unique and striking landscape, a vast stretch of clear shallow water peppered with little islands that is, to me, like nowhere else in the world.
Lunch at Paladar Don Alexis! Alexis is an old friend, an amazing cook and host, and a blazing supernova of good energy. Needless to say, on a trip where we’ve enjoyed a ridiculous number of delicious group meals, this is one of the best: crab, snapper, lobster, as fresh as it gets and cooked to perfection by Alexis himself on his wood-fired grill.
Another great craft talk by Danielle on the life and habits of a novelist, followed by cocktails and a wonderful reading by our writers, followed by a final buffet out on the porch overlooking the beach. Tomorrow, it’s back to Havana for one more day before we scatter with the wind.
A generative writing workshop starts off the morning. It’s very fun to see writers at work on the beach, and I look forward to hearing the amazing words that everyone will share with us later in the day back in Havana.
For now, though, we head up to Palpite and the amazing Korimakao community arts project, where a group of resident artists conduct a year-round training program for talented at-risk youth from across the island, many from the poorer eastern provinces of Guantánamo, Granma, etc. They have studios in music, dance, theater, and visual arts, and what they do with it is very cool.
Every year, from scratch, they compose and create a theatrical/musical/dance “spectacle” that they bring to the poorer communities around the Peninsula de Zapata and beyond. It’s really an amazing project; we got to visit both the music and dance studios to witness the early stages of elements of the spectacle coming together. It’s impossible to capture how inspiring this is, from both a creative and a cultural standpoint. I love this place; the mission, the reality, the brightly blazing inspiration emanating from the young artists in residence.
From here, we walk up the block to a highly secret undisclosed location, where we had the life-altering treat of multiple close encounters with the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird. Lots of other species as well. I would tell you more, but I’d have to kill you.
From there it’s back to Havana for an afternoon of final explorations and a bit of strategic shopping (rum and cigars mostly, but also some antique art-deco jewelry, a new suitcase, and a few other incredible finds). And then our final night out, which included a raucous convoy in bright red (and one pink) old “yank tank” convertibles from the forties and fifties, followed by a life-changing private concert in the art studio of a distinguished artist with a jazz trio featuring one of Cuba’s most famous jazz musicians (whose name must remain unsaid for reasons I won’t go into here).
This was followed by a spirited and somewhat decadent last supper at San Cristóbal, one of the city’s greatest paladares. Barack and Michelle dined here on their trip, and I once shared a side room with Sigourney Weaver, not to name-drop. And we had more fun!
Suffice to say it was of the best nights ever with a group in Havana. And that’s saying quite a lot.
We scatter with the wind, fortified with inspiration and joyful memories of adventure, companionship, inspiration, and a trip well spent.
If you’re interested in participating in a future version of this program, or if you’re interested in exploring other similar opportunities for creative and/or custom-arranged independent travel in Cuba, send me a message.
Announcing new travel programs
September 1, 2022 § 1 Comment
In the works are several new small-group trips abroad:
November 30 – December 7, 2022: Informal “Family & Friends” trip to Cuba (Havana, Cienfuegos, Playa Larga – contact by email for more info)
January 7 – 15, 2023: Newport MFA Writing Workshop in Cuba (Havana & Playa Larga: open to non-MFA writers on a first-come, first served basis)
April 10 – 17, 2023: Art & Cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico (further details will be posted here when they’re available)
If you’re interested in learning more about any of these travel programs, just shoot me an email or use the contact page .
If none of these work with your schedule but this kind of trip IS of interest and you don’t want to wait another year (more or less) for one of these update emails to hit your inbox, please feel free bookmark the frequently updated “Upcoming” page.
To explore ideas about creating custom trips for small groups of family, friends, educational institutions, etc, again, just reply to this email or send me a note through the “Contact” page.
New short fiction at Pangyrus
June 29, 2021 § 2 Comments
Great to see my new short story, “The Tawny-Green Steppe,” up at the beautifully edited and produced Pangyrus literary magazine. The story, a reimagining of Charles Darwin’s adventures in Tierra del Fuego and the Argentine pampas, was shortlisted for the 2021 Fish International Short Story Prize.
My focus over these last few years has been on novels, so it’s wonderful to be back in the short fiction game. Link to full story here.
Save the dates: Cuba trips planned for Fall ’21 and Winter ’22
March 3, 2021 § Leave a comment
As many of you reading this will know, I’ve had a decades-long engagement with Cuba. The country has been something of obsession for me since 1999, when I was fortunate enough to scout and lead the first U.S. student travel program to visit the island since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. It possesses a sui generis mystique that’s impossible to fully express, a combination of living history, sensory opulence, cultural and artistic magnificence, and hard-to-read political undercurrents that I find endlessly fascinating. The pandemic, meanwhile, terrible as it has been, has given all of us time out to reflect, and also to recharge our curiosity in terms of getting back out into the world.
Evenings on the Malecón.
SPECIAL NOTE: DUE TO THE CONTINUING PANDEMIC, THESE PROGRAMS HAVE BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL FALL ’22 AND/OR SPRING ’23. Please send a quick note using the contact form if you want to add your name to the list of interested parties!
Nov 28 – Dec 5, 2021: Havana, Cienfuegos, Playa Larga
This highly enjoyable and culturally rich trip will be of special interest to creative types: artists, writers, musicians, dancers, photographers—along with their families, and really anyone who is interested in being exposed to the vibrant and ubiquitous creative life of central/western Cuba.
We’ll be dropping in on music and dance groups and community arts projects, visiting with painters and sculptors in their homes and studios, hitting a few spots on the Hemingway trail, eating at some of Cuba’s most interesting paladares, and enjoying time on our own to sample Havana’s great music scene in the evenings.
What makes the trip special is the opportunity to touch base with an extensive network of talented, luminous Cuban artists, writers, musicians, dancers—many of whom are personal friends whom I haven’t seen in too long.
And we’ll be finishing with several days in the pleasant Caribbean town of Playa Larga, with good access to beaches, snorkeling, and world-class birdwatching in Ciénega de Zapata National Park.
April 9 – 17, 2022: Central Cuba Road Trip: Havana, Trinidad, and other sites TBD
Of the probably 40 or 50 trips I’ve made to Cuba, one of my favorites was a month-long writing program for students, in which we started in Santiago and ended in Havana with an extended road trip across the entire island in between. This shorter version will begin and end in Havana, but will get us out to some of the fascinating and very lightly visited central regions of the island east of Havana.
Suitable for people who’ve either been to the island before and/or are ready for a more off-the-beaten track adventure. In addition to Havana and Trinidad, we’ll be tapping the knowledge of longstanding local contacts to explore lesser-known rural areas, including places that don’t get many foreign visitors.
The exact itinerary is TBD, but we’ll be focusing on natural areas, community projects, Santería, and organic agriculture.
In my experience the best adventures come with a generous dose of the unknown – which can mean periods of wasted time, travel on sometimes slow roads, and an occasional activity that doesn’t pan out exactly as expected—but with the advantage of spontaneous opportunities that may arise and the opportunity to meet and interact with new Cuban friends along the way!
Special Note on private trips:
I encourage you to explore the idea of setting up a custom small-group trip for friends/family, which is generally quite possible if you have between 3 and 12 people interested. It’s actually a surprisingly affordable way to go, and I’m happy to discuss it with you without any obligation if you’re interested. Just send me a message!
PPS. For those interested in writing programs, I direct the Newport MFA’s winter residency in Havana, Jan 2-9, 2022, which is open to writers outside the program, along with non-writing significant others & family members!
Audiobook of Will Poole’s Island, small-group Cuba trips, and other news
September 3, 2020 § Leave a comment
|I’m thrilled to announce the impending release of a new audiobook of Will Poole’s Island—narrated by yours truly! It turns out that recording an audiobook is an exacting, time consuming process—but also a surprisingly enjoyable one. This slightly whimsical fish-eye photo taken by producer and sound engineer Reggie Martell in the spare room of my Vermont house that he converted into a sound studio doesn’t really do justice to how rewarding it was to re-immerse myself in that first published novel, a book that will always hold a special place in my heart.|
|Years had passed since I’d last revisited Will Poole’s Island; there were moments when I felt like I was reading it for the first time. And I’m pleased to report, in my humble opinion, that the story holds up well, offering a rewarding temporary escape from the tense stretch of history we’re currently living. This is especially so thanks to Reggie’s professional expertise and the hauntingly beautiful original musical interludes composed by the talented ETC Kid.|
|The audiobook and Kindle e-book are set to be released on September 15, with a new edition of the paperback to follow in Spring ’21. If your interest is piqued, I encourage you to ORDER THE AUDIOBOOK NOW from Audible or the vendor of your choice. You’ll have my sincere gratitude. And I know you’ll enjoy listening to the novel!|
|The last time I was in Havana was January, 2020, but it feels like fifty years ago! Very much looking forward to getting back next year. Care to join me?|
|As a place to visit Cuba is as interesting as ever, perhaps even more so given the effectiveness of the response to COVID-19. Unlike certain other countries in the world, the country has been used its excellent medical system and organizing capacity to good effect, keeping new cases of the pandemic limited. In fact my Cuban friends are constantly checking in to express their worries about how we’re all doing up north in the U.S.—which says quite a bit about the situations in our respective countries.|
|Depending on how things go, the next year or so looks to be an opportune time to revisit this fascinating country that I know and love so well.|
|I’m considering putting together two or three small-group trips to Cuba, dates TBD, in winter/spring 2021, late fall 2021, and/or winter/spring 2022.|
|I’m also available to set up custom independent trips if you have a small group of family or friends that want to go. If either of these options is of more than casual interest to you, please send me a note with any thoughts on what your interests are in terms of trip content, and if there is a best time frame for you.|
|I’ll keep a careful list and update you specifically as I hear from people and actual trip dates begin to take shape. You can also bookmark this page, on which I keep an updated list of upcoming writing workshops, travel programs, talks, readings, and other events.|
|Meanwhile, I hope you are holding up well, staying safe and healthy, and managing to enjoy life in all its varied moments! Please don’t hesitate to send me a note if you’d like to touch base in a more personal way. |
Porto to Salamanca on a Douro River cruise
September 20, 2019 § 3 Comments
Excited to return to one of my favorite corners of the planet to embark on this new National Geographic program, my first in nearly a year.
In my capacity as featured expert I’ll be delivering a series of lectures on the long, colorful history of the Iberian peninsula, from the earliest clues about human life to the Romans and the Moors and the rise and fall of the Hapsburg dynasty—and possibly beyond that, if we have time, to Francisco de Goya and the Peninsular War.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll also be offering an ad hoc field-based creative writing workshop, and hopefully getting some of my own scribbling done too.
Also looking forward to visiting some of the fascinating sites we have on the itinerary, meeting everyone else on our river ship, the Scenic Azure, and of course sampling some delicious food, wine, and port!
Return Engagement: Tierra del Fuego & Southern Patagonia
November 4, 2018 § 3 Comments
On this key midterm election day in the USA, I’m so thrilled to be heading back (after voting, of course) to one of my favorite corners of planet Earth, an area of vast and stunning wilderness encompassing the islands, waters, and mountain ranges of the southernmost reaches of the South American continent.
We’ll be stopping over for a few days in Buenos Aires, but the real adventure begins in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, as we board the Stella Australis, a small (150-200 passenger) Chilean-run cruise ship, and set off into the stark and storied landscapes and seascapes of Tierra del Fuego.
We’ll visit the legendary Cape Horn, making a landing if the weather allows, and then follow in the wake of Charles Darwin’s Beagle and use zodiacs to explore various fascinating features, including fjords, tidewater glaciers, a penguin colony, and pristine high latitude temperate rainforests of this spectacular convergence of land, sea and ice, we’ll be on the lookout for whales, sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other fascinating bird species.
Next, we’ll stay in the amazing Tierra Patagonia hotel at the foot of the dramatic granite spires and horns of Torres del Paine National Park. Here we’ll have several full days of hiking and/or horseback riding amidst one of the world’s most striking landscapes, in a part of Chile with some of the lowest human population densities on the planet.
This rich and diverse ecosystem is of particular interest to us because it includes an apex predator, the elusive puma, and its primary prey, the charming and highly entertaining guanaco. What a magnificent opportunity!
This will be my fifth time on this particular National Geographic itinerary, and I’m thrilled to be heading back. One of the advantages of being a writer is that it’s a multi-disciplinary pursuit—and a trip like this provides great material.
I’m a big fan of history, geography, ecology, and biography as disciplines that enrich any travel experience, and it will be my privilege to share some of those wide-ranging interests with the National Geographic group.
Talks will focus on the history and geography of the region and the lives of explorers and adventurers who went on to make important contributions to humanity and the planet—and whose early lives were shaped by their journeys to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. My final talk will be more personal in nature, about my parallel careers as a novelist and travel guide, the links between travel, writing, and environmental awareness, and what I call the “geographic imagination.”
All in all, it promises to be an unforgettable experience. This is a really fantastic part of the world and I highly recommend you get there if you can. I could be convinced, by the way, to organize a custom trip or two if anyone’s interested . . .
Audiobook release, new Cuba dates & other news
October 2, 2018 § 2 Comments
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
A quick update on books and travel, and wishing you all a happy fall!
For anyone who likes to listen as you drive, work, or relax, I’m pleased to inform you that A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
Everything you might want to know about the collection can be found here; I include a quick summary and some review highlights pasted at the bottom of this post. (It’s been wonderful to see how well the book has been received out in the world, by the way. It seems to have found some “legs” of its own, and I’m most grateful to all of you who’ve purchased, read, reviewed, and/or recommended it.)
New Cuba dates! I’m thrilled to announce an exciting new cultural trip, offered in cooperation with the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, timed to coincide with the renowned Havana Art Biennial, April 15 – 23, 2019. This will be a well planned but flexible and culturally rich program, so if you’ve been looking for an excuse to go (or return) to Cuba, here it is!
For the writers and aspiring writers out there, consider coming on the fourth annual Cuba Writers Program, May 2- 10, 2019. We have a great time on this program; it’s a wonderful way to experience the vibrant culture of Cuba while honing or kick-starting your writing.
If you have 3-10 friends or family members looking to go to Cuba on your own, I can help you plan a custom, small-group trip that’s fully compliant with U.S. Treasury Department legal requirements. My Havana ground operation and I have organized quite a few of these in the last several years, and we’ve got it down to a fine art. Happy to plan creative custom programs in other parts of the world as well.
Finally, here’s my frequently updated list of upcoming talks, programs, and classes, including events offered in various locations through Grub Street, the Newport MFA in Creative Writing, National Geographic Expeditions, Vermont Humanities Council, various writing conferences, and elsewhere. I hope our paths may cross!
Wishing you all the best,
A high altitude lake is the point of departure for these stories of dark adventure, in which fishing guides, amateur sportsmen, teenage misfits, scientists, mountaineers, and expatriates embark on disquieting journeys of self-discovery in far-flung places. A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing made the 2018 Eric Hoffer Book Awards Grand Prize Short List and was a finalist in the short story category for both the 2018 American Fiction Awards and the 2017 International Book Awards.
“From the mountain lakes of the Colorado Rockies to cobbled streets of Spain, this fascinating collection of short stories never disappoints. A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing is a collection you’ll be happy to get lost in.” — Ploughshares.
“Provocative and memorable, this collection strikes all the right chords.” — Main Street Rag
“I found myself consuming [these] thirteen tightly wound tales with addictive delight.” — Fiction Writers Review
“Weed’s short stories draw us away from the blue light of device screens. Under the blue skies and dark waters of A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing, readers can feel pain, empathy, and purpose bubbling out from the sharp-detailed mental images.” — Pleiades
“Tim Weed proves himself a skilled creator of a sense of place . . . each story deposits one definitively into a geography, of mind and map.” — The Boston Globe
“Weed’s stories . . . are colored by his long experience as a travel and adventure writer . . . His characters are fishermen, mountaineers, and teenagers all on a quest for self-discovery. From the title page to the last page, this is a book of gems.” — Big Sky Journal
“These stories bristle with energy and immediacy. The writing is spare and meticulous and packs a hefty emotional punch. I am not exaggerating when I say this collection kept me up at nights. I just couldn’t stop reading.” — Addison Independent
Order the paperback, ebook, or (new!) audiobook at your favorite independent bookstore or IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, or Audible. (A limited number of first-edition hardcovers still available here.)
Paperback release, Douro River, Eastern Cuba, and other news
April 24, 2018 § Leave a comment
It’s been a year since the release of A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing in hardcover. This is just a quick post to let you know that the paperback launches today! It’s a nice little book I think, and I’m pleased to report that since the hardcover release there’s been plenty of good news. It’s been shortlisted for two international book awards (one of which is still in process—please keep your fingers crossed), has resulted in a lot of good press including interviews on both Vermont and New Hampshire Public radio (links to both podcasts here), and has continued to garner favorable reviews.
Another bit of news that I’m thrilled to share is that I’ll be starting a job this June on the core faculty of a new low-residency graduate writing program: the “Newport MFA in Creative Writing,” based at Salve Regina College in Newport, Rhode Island (and Havana!). This is the brainchild of my friend, the brilliant Ann Hood, and it’s an exciting new venture in the writing world. If any of you’ve been contemplating a writing MFA, I highly recommend that you check it out!
The coming year is also shaping up to be exciting in terms of travel: I’ll be the National Geographic featured lecturer on a new Douro River cruise navigating from Porto, Portugal, to Salamanca, Spain and back (Sept 23 – Oct 3). I’ll be leading a new off-the-beaten-track program in Eastern Cuba in collaboration with my publisher, Green Writers Press (Nov 5 – 12). And in May, 2019, we’ll be offering the fourth annual Cuba Writers Program in Havana and one other Cuban destination (TBA).
If you’re interested in any of these and/or in other adventures in the months and years to come, you can find details and keep track of evolving dates here. Maybe we’ll see you out in the world! (And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like explore ways to organize an affordable custom trip to Cuba.)
Here’s a photo I just took of the new paperbacks. If you want to get your hands on a copy, now’s an auspicious time to buy one! A wave of purchases around the release date can trigger algorithms that can make books more visible to the public, which is of course extremely helpful for ambitious and little-known authors such as yours truly (as are reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, by the way).
As always, thanks for being out there. I’m deeply grateful for your friendship and support. Please don’t hesitate to send a note if you want to run something by me or simply catch up. Meanwhile, here’s wishing you a happy and productive spring!
To go or not to go? Traveling to Cuba and the situation on the ground
December 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’ve fielded quite a few questions in recent months about the advisability of travel to Cuba, given the stories that have been in the news: Hurricane Irma, the “sonic attacks,” and the new restrictions put out by the Trump administration.
Is it no longer possible/advisable/comfortable for Americans to travel to Cuba? Fresh from a wonderful contemporary Cuban art trip with my friend the painter Eric Aho and a group of ten intrepid travel companions, I’m finally in a position to report.
We had no problems with U.S. airport authorities, though we were asked for “paperwork” demonstrating that we were part of an educational group that was in compliance with the new regulations. I showed them our working itinerary, which was all they needed to see. Otherwise there were no barriers on the US side. For a summary of the new regulations, click here.
The flights down and back were nearly empty, a rare experience these days. You could stretch out on the seats, and there was plenty of room in the overheads. It made for an unusually easy and pleasant flight, though one couldn’t help feeling a little regretful on behalf of the many Cuban entrepreneurs who’d staked their futures on the openings for independent travelers under Obama—which have proved all too fleeting, from their perspective, under his successor.
In Havana, little has changed. Arriving in the city is always exhilarating: that feeling of being launched back in time, or at least to a place like nowhere else in the world. There is little visible damage left over from Hurricane Irma, and even less evidence of any effect of the so-called “sonic attacks” on diplomatic workers that have been reported in Havana (and more recently in Uzbekistan). The precise nature of these highly isolated incidents is unknown, what might have caused them, or even whether they were indeed attacks. Many Cubans I’ve spoken to are skeptical.
In any case, there’s little evidence of nefarious events on the streets of Havana, where life goes on as normal. Uniformed schoolkids on the Prado playing soccer. Musicians and roller-bladers and lovers on the marble benches. The usual fishermen on the Malecón. Old cars in the street, families riding on motorcycles with sidecars, jineteros pushing cigars. People going about the business of daily life.
The main difference I could see is that there are so many fewer Americans on the streets than a year or even six months ago. Entrepreneurs have had to adjust their expectations, but there are still plenty of international tourists, so the situation isn’t as desperate as you might think. It’s a palpable slowdown, but everything hasn’t come grinding to a halt. Perhaps the Cubans don’t need us as much as we like to imagine.
One day I got a little stomach bug and spent the day writing, going for short walks, and lounging around in my third-floor hotel room, which had a view into a dance school. I could peer through the breeze-ruffed curtains and watch the young dancers practice all day, reminding me again why I keep coming back to Cuba: the inspiration of being surrounded by people who take pride in their work – whether they are dancers, musicians, painters, mechanics, taxi drivers, fishermen or street sweepers. People who as a result of hard and disciplined daily practice are good at what they do, and find joy in that and in the textures of daily life. People of great, unflappable dignity who remain cheerful and friendly despite obstacles and hardships that are impossible to conceive for those of us that didn’t live them.
In this way as in many others, little has changed in Cuba. It’s still an architectural time capsule, a cultural and natural environment of astounding richness and beauty. It’s still as fun, interesting, and inspiring as ever for the traveler, whether you’re returning or visiting for the first time.
A trip to Cuba at this moment in history is an act of resistance against those who would impinge on our freedom to travel, and in the process damage the fortunes of the same free-market pioneers the new policies claim to support. More importantly, it is a chance increase the bonds of friendship between ourselves and our brothers and sisters on this special island.
Now is as great a time as ever to travel to Cuba. Read more about the options for doing that here.