The Dirty Text

BY Soleida Ríos


Soleida Ríos (b. 1950) is an acclaimed Cuban poet whose work draws from Afro-Cuban traditions as well as writers as diverse as Juan Rulfo and Aimé Cesaire. She has published fourteen books from 1977 to the present, and The Dirty Text (El Texto Sucio) is her first book to appear in English. Written in the 1990s in Cuba, it is a book of poems, a book of stories and, most vividly, a book of dreams. As poet Rosa Alcalá writes, Ríos’ writings are “indescribable manifestations of a poetics unfastened to mode, genre, or category.” In this book, human eyes appear beneath other human eyes, snakes materialize with three heads, and the bodies of loved ones duplicate, disintegrate or speak to ghosts and Gods. It is a book about the possibilities of language and literature to articulate our relationship to the communities we occupy and the communities we imagine, a book that disentangles the lines between our conscious lives and our unconscious lives, what we imagine and what we experience. Ríos writes of the island’s east and west cities of Havana and Santiago, but she looks off the island as well, to Mexico, to South America, to Europe, at once evoking and defying the broader, international traditions of surrealist and hallucinatory writing.

The Dirty Text comes to us in English through a generous web of collaboration and community. Barbara Jamison worked personally with Ríos and produced the first draft of this book. Her intimate engagement with and belief in Ríos’s writing led the way, but unfortunately, Jamison passed away before her work  concluded. In 2017, scholar and translator Olivia Lott took on this project with a remarkable sense of dedication and enthusiasm. Lott edited the translation with the greatest respect for the work that had been done before her, and with a vast understanding of Ríos’s project within the context of Cuban writing at large. Kristin Dykstra writes the afterword, placing the text in its original context.

The Dirty Text received a major literary award from the Alejo Carpentier Foundation, and her 2013 collection Estrías won the Nicolás Guillén award. Ríos was also recognized with the National Literary Critics Award in 2014. Her work is long overdue in translation, and Kenning Editions is thrilled to give The Dirty Text a life and a readership in English.