Celebrated Cuban-American author Virgil Suárez will give a free public reading of his latest book of poetry, 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems, at Converse College March 8 at 8 p.m. in the Cleveland Hall Alumnae House.
The title of the book reflects the literal distance between Cuba and the tip of Florida. The reading, which is open to the public, is made possible by the college’s Elizabeth Boatwright Coker Visiting Writers Series and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Suárez’s novels include Latin Jazz, The Cutter, Havana Thursdays, Going Under, Infinite Refuge, and Spared Angola: Memories from a Cuban-American Childhood. His books of poetry include Guide to the Blue Tongue, Banyan, for which he won the Book Expo America/Latino Literature Hall of Fame Poetry Prize, In the Republic of Longing, Garabato Poems, and You Come Singing. His work has been included in hundreds of magazines, journals and anthologies. Suárez has achieved such distinctions as the Florida State Individual Artist Grant, a G. MacCarthur Poetry Prize, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He has acted as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Panelist in 2000 and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Panel/Judge in 1999.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1962, Suárez’s family took up residence in the US in 1974. “My parents wanted their shot at the American dream, and they also wanted to keep me out of the Cuban military,” said Suárez from Tallahassee, Fla. where he is currently serving as associate professor of creative writing at Florida State University. “In the 1960s and 1970s, the Cuban government had a policy of drafting 14-year-old boys into the military, and its involvement with Angola was beginning to heat-up. My parents did not want to lose their only child to the military, so when I was eight-years-old, we moved to Spain, then to Puerto Rico, and eventually settled in the US.”
The language and culture divide was a barrier that Suárez had to deal with immediately upon his arrival in the US. But it was that barrier that set him on the path to literary success. “My English skills were limited at best during that time,” he says, “and my mother would send me to school wearing a three-piece denim suit. Needless to say, the other school children-who were clad in t-shirts and jeans-had a lot of laughs at my expense. It was those experiences that sent me to the library where I discovered books.”
Suárez incorporates his own experience as a Cuban refugee and a Cuban-American in his novels and poetry. “I write about people I know, and I know Cubans and Cuban-Americans because I am one,” he said. “I readily classify myself as a Cuban-American because I have lived most of my life here in the US as an exile. With that said, I approach my work from the nature of exile and the experiences of my people because it’s what I know best.”
For more information about Suárez’s reading at Converse, call (864) 596-9099.