Cuban poet Heberto Padilla dies
His critical works brought him persecution, arrest
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
Heberto Padilla, a celebrated Cuban poet whose arrest turned the
world's leading intellectuals against
the Cuban revolution, died Monday in Auburn, Ala., where he was teaching at the university.
When he did not arrive for class, students went to his apartment
and found that he had died in his sleep,
apparently from a heart attack. He was 68.
Widely hailed as one of the best Cuban poets of his generation,
he composed heartfelt odes to love and
life in the tropics and to a revolution betrayed.
Before Americans heard his poetry, many knew his name.
In virtual house arrest by Fidel Castro's government since 1971,
Padilla came to
the United States in 1980 thanks to the intervention of Sen. Ted Kennedy. He was
later honored by President Ronald Reagan in a nationally televised address.
His ordeal as a persecuted intellectual in Cuba in the late 1960s
and '70s became
known worldwide as ``The Padilla Affair'' and earned him the backing of some of
the world's most renowned writers.
A frequent visitor and literature professor in Miami, the Miami
International honored Padilla in 1998 on the 30th anniversary of his most
celebrated and controversial book Fuera del juego (Out of the Game) -- a daring
and powerful collection of poetry that was chastised by the Cuban government as
a challenge to the revolution.
In 1968, at a time when no intellectual inside Cuba had dared
to publicly question
the Castro regime, a panel of judges awarded Cuba's highest literary prize to
Padilla's book. The Cuban government was outraged. The state-sponsored Union
of Cuban Writers and Artists, which gave the prize, was forced to issue a
statement that ran as an appendix to the book and criticized it as a
The action marginalized Padilla, who was constantly under surveillance
security. Two years later, after officials learned he was writing a novel that also
would be an affront to the government, he was arrested.
He was then forced to perform a humiliating act of self-criticism
by reading a
statement before the writers union saying he had been wrong for questioning and
challenging the revolution. He let the world know he was not the author of the
statement -- and that he was acting against his will -- by letting the grammatical
mistakes of the state security official who wrote it stand.
The scandal brought international condemnation to a revolutionary
until then had enjoyed widespread support from world intellectuals.
In exile, Padilla published in 1984 the novel that Cuban police
were seeking but
never found -- En mi jardín pastan los héroes (Heroes Graze My Garden), which
he had smuggled out of Cuba as a satchel of letters.
In the United States, Padilla taught literature at Princeton,
New York University
and the University of Miami, among others. He also co-edited the literary
magazine Linden Lane with his then wife, Belkis Cuza Male.
Padilla also wrote a memoir of his two decades under Castro --
La mala memoria,
published in English by Farrar Straus Giroux as Self-Portrait of the Other (1990).
He is also the author of El hombre junto al mar (Man by the Sea, 1981) and El
justo tiempo humano (The Exact Human Time, 1962), which his sister Martha,
also a poet, described as ``the manuscript of a human being burdened by the
weight of his generation.''
Padilla's works have been translated into 14 languages. Many a
woman has been
courted with the cadence of his stanzas, the beauty of his way with words.
In a bilingual anthology of his poems titled Legacies, Padilla
wrote: ``Death if it
wants can wear its black cape/ and its searing yellow halo/ and do whatever it
wants; but love, let love be/ the way it is in the tropics.''
But it was the political poetry inspired by his poignant experiences
Padilla worldwide acclaim. Among his prize-winning poems in Out of the Game,
was Poetica (Poetics):
``Tell your truth/ tell, at least, your truth./ And then,/ let
anything happen: let them
rip your beloved page, / let them knock your door down with stones, / let people /
crowd before your body / as if you were / a prodigy or a dead man.''
Padilla is survived by his children, Giselle, María, Carlos
and Ernesto; his sister,
Martha; brother Gilberto; and his companion Lourdes Gil.
His family is making arrangements to bring his body to Miami for funeral services.