October 25, 2023

Northern Public Radio: A documentary highlighting Afro-Cuban literature will premiere in DeKalb

By Yvonne Boose
Story courtesy of Northern Public Radio

An award-winning filmmaker is bringing a movie that encompasses all her documentaries to DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre next month.

Juanamaria Cordones-Cook is the University of Missouri curators’ distinguished professor of Afro Latin American literature and culture. Cordones-Cook said the new documentary is a result of years of research about Afro-Cubans.

“When I have just finished my PhD, I discovered a new genre in theater,” she said. “A new genre because no one had studied before, which is the Afro-Latin American theater. And I developed that genre and I have published books on that.”

That was in 1991. A couple years later she said she met an Afro-Cuban poet at an Afro-Hispanic conference at the University of Missouri. Cordones-Cook said for her, Nancy Morejón is one of the most fascinating writers. Cordones-Cook has written six books about Morejón, created four documentaries, and other has done other types of research on her.

“Because she’s not only a poet, she’s an amazing essay writer,” she said. “Her essays are poetry, but with tremendous depth. And she is the first Afro-Latin American woman who, who came to public attention.”

Cordones-Cook said that Morejón’s work encompasses several areas of social and artistic interests.

She said she spent three days with the writer during the event.

“After asking me, if I wanted to work on her poetry as a critique, she sent me 47 years of poetry, something like this typed by her, all of her poetry,” Cordones-Cook said.

She said she has also worked to translate Morejón’s work from Spanish to English.
Morejón also introduced her to several Afro-Cuban artists.

Cordones-Cook traveled to Cuban and while in Havana she noticed a surplus of writers and artists. She said it reminded her of the Harlem Renaissance because both movements came from undesirable social situations.

“I call all of this cultural and artistic phenomenon in Cuba, the Havana’s Black Renaissance, because even though they were artists, writers, Afro-Hispanic people coming from all over the island,” she explained. “They were attracted by the lights and the life in Havana.”

She said she realized that Cuba had generations of African descendants. She started doing articles, and books, and in 2007 she started filming oral histories. After that she decided to create documentaries. These films highlighted the works and life of the Afro-Cuban artists. A few years ago, someone suggested she take all those documentaries and put them together into one film.

Cordones-Cook’s films have been screened across the world, but she hadn’t presented her work in DeKalb.

Frances Jaeger is an associate professor at Northern Illinois University. Her teaching focuses on Latin American Literature. Cordones-Cook said she’s known Jeager for several years. Jeager invited her to DeKalb.

Cordones-Cook said she creates these documentaries with one purpose in mind.

“I want to educate the world,” she said. “I want to show how it doesn’t matter, the color of the skin or the hair that anyone has, the human being the human condition is the same, and you can have brilliant geniuses from any part of the world or from any ethnic or racial condition.”

She said the University of Missouri has always supported her initiatives, which helps her reach this goal. Next April the university will host an event called Afro- Cuban Legacies, Visual Arts, Literature, Theater, Music, and Religion. Cordones-Cook said artists will come from Cuba as well as scholars from Germany, Belgium, Africa, and other places. She said this will be an explosion of art and the entire state of Missouri will be involved.

The upcoming DeKalb screening will cover 30 artists including Morejón. The showing takes place on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. at DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre. The audience will have the opportunity to ask questions after the film. Links to other work by Cordones-Cook can be found at the University of Missouri’s website.

The screening is presented by NIU’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies. The university’s Center for Black Studies, Department of Communication and Department of World Languages provided funding.