The Dirty Text

BY Soleida Ríos


ISBN: 9780999719817 (2018)

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.   

William Repass, Full Stop:

These texts do not adhere to a doctrine of clarity. Or, better said, they clearly render the unclarity of dreams. The effect is one of mimesis, realism. A painstaking copy of nature. Except that for Ríos it is inner nature. Her texts are at once reminiscent of Deren and de Chirico, who exploit the realism of film and neoclassicism, respectively, to reshape the real. But Ríos is confessional too, and political, filtering both the haunting of old lovers and the bureaucratic absurd through an unconscious medium. Just as The Dirty Text does not sit comfortably in any form or genre, it strays from established -isms, philosophic or literary, exposing the borders that separate surrealism and social realism, lyrical autobiography and the postmodern meta, as arbitrary. Ríos unseats the sham narrative of literary history as one of progress, treating the discoveries of various national literatures and schools as interchangeable — each a prism through which to view reality, each a collective dream.

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