Pérez Firmat, Gustavo 1949–
Pérez Firmat, Gustavo 1949–
(Gustavo Francisco Perez Firmat, Gustavo Perez-Firmat, Gustavo Francisco Perez-Firmat)
Born March 7, 1949, in Havana, Cuba; immigrated to the United States, 1960; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1973; son of Gustavo (in sales) and Luz-Maria (a secretary) Firmat Pérez; married Rosa Perelmuter (a professor), August 10, 1973 (divorced, 1990); married Mary Anne Adamson, February 14, 1991; children: (first marriage) David, Miriam. Education: Miami-Dade Community College, A.A., 1970; University of Miami, B.A., 1972, M.A., 1973; University of Michigan, Ph.D., 1979. Religion: Catholic.
Writer and educator. University of Miami, FL, teaching assistant, 1972-73; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, teaching assistant, 1973-79; Duke University, Durham, NC, instructor, 1978-79, assistant professor, 1979-83, associate professor, 1983-87, professor of Spanish, 1987-99, chairman, 1988-89; Columbia University, New York, NY, David Feinson Professor of Humanities, 1999—. Visiting professor of Spanish, Middlebury College, 1983; Wayne G. Basler Chair of Excellence, East Tennessee State University, 1997; visiting appointment, Emory University, 2002; visiting professor, Yale University, 2005. Special consultant, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Latin American Fellowship Program, 1990—; consultant, National Humanities Center, 2003—; member of board of advisors, National Association of Cuban American Educators, 2006; member of board of advisors, Center for Free Inquiry, Hanover College, 2006.
American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, Modern Language Association (member of Executive Committee of the Division for 20th-Century Spanish Literature, 1989-92), National Association of Cuban-American Educators Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Sigma Pi.
American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1981; first prize in poetry, Hispanic Festival of the Arts (Miami, FL), 1983; Mellon Foundation fellow, 1981-82; Guggenheim fellowship, 1985; National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellow, 1985-86; Duke University Major Faculty Grants, 1985, 1991, 1994, and 1997; Eugene M. Kayden University Press National Book Award, 1995, for Life on the Hyphen; named university scholar/teacher of the year, Duke University, 1995; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1995, for Next Year in Cuba; Excellence Award, FACE (Facts about Cuban Exiles), 1996; Palma Espinada Prize, Southern California Cuban-American Cultural Institute, 2000; award, El Diario La Prensa, to the "thirty outstanding Latinos" in New York, NY, 2004; elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2004; Educator of the Year, National Association of Cuban American Educators, 2005.
Idle Fictions: The Hispanic Vanguard Novel, 1926-1934, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1982, expanded edition, 1993.
Literature and Liminality: Festive Readings in the Hispanic Tradition, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1986.
Carolina Cuban: Poems, Bilingual Review Press (Tempe, AZ), 1987.
(With Roberto Duran and Judith Ortiz Cofer) Triple Crown: Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban-American Poetry, Bilingual Press (Tempe, AZ), 1987.
The Cuban Condition: Translation and Identity in Modern Cuban Literature, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Equivocaciones, Editorial Betania (Madrid, Spain), 1989.
(Editor and author of introduction) Do the Americas Have a Common Literature?, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1990.
Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1994.
Bilingual Blues (poetry), Bilingual Review Press (Tempe, AZ), 1995.
Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano's Coming-of-Age in America, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995, revised edition, Scrivenery, 2000.
My Own Private Cuba: Essays on Cuban Literature and Culture, Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies (Boulder, CO), 1999.
Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio, Ediciones Universal (Miami, FL), 2000.
Anything but Love (novel), Arte Publico Press (Houston, TX), 2000.
Vidas en vilo: La cultura cubano-americana, Editorial Colibri (Madrid, Spain), 2000.
Tongue Ties: Logo-Eroticism in Anglo-Hispanic Literature, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2003.
Scar Tissue (poetry), Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue (Tempe, AZ), 2005.
Contributor of poetry and fiction to magazines and anthologies, including Los Atrevidos: An Anthology of Cuban-American Writers, 1988; Hispanic American Literature, 1999; Strategies to Achieve Reading Success, 2000; Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature, 2001; American Diaspora: Poetry of Exile, 2001; Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature in the United States, 2001; Cubanísimo: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literarure, 2001; Growing Up in the South, 2003; The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, 2005; Burnt Sugar/Caña quemada: Contemporary Cuban Poetry in English and Spanish, 2006; Writing Toward Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America, 2006; and Michigan Quarterly Review. Contributor of articles, essays, and notes to journals and periodicals, including Bilingual Review, Caribbean Review, Comparative Literature Studies, Diacritics, Hispania, Hispanic Magazine, Hispanic Review, LindenLane, Modern Language Notes, Daedalus: Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Revista Estudios Hispánicos, Latin American Research Review, Symposium, Cuban Studies, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, and Washington Post Book World. Member of editorial and/or advisory boards, including Critica Hispanica, 1982-2000; Cuban Literary Studies Monographs, 1983—; Latin American Literary Review, 1985—; and Anales de la literatura espanola contemporanea, 1985—; Siglo XX, 1989-97); Cuban Studies, 1990-98, 2000—; Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Review, 1991—; Revista de estudios colombianos, 1991-95; Americas Review, 1993-99; Hopscotch, 1997-2001; Literary Imagination, Caribe: Revista de Cultura y Literatura, 1998—; Nepantla: Views from the South, 1999-2002; Revista Hispánica Moderna, 2001—; Review: Latin American Literature and Arts, 2002-05; Dissidences: Hispanic Journal of Theory and Criticism, 2005—; Romanic Review, 2006—; and Global South, 2007—. Reader for university presses and other publishers, including: Duke University Press, Cambridge University Press, George Mason University Press, University of North Carolina Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Iowa Press, University of Massachusetts Press, University of Pennsylvania Press, University of California Press, Oxford University Press, University of Virginia Press, University of Florida Press, Vanderbilt University Press, Eirik Borve Inc., Canadian Federation for the Humanities (Aid to Scholarly Publications Program), Heinle and Heinle, Arte Público Press, University of South Carolina Press, Houghton Mifflin, University of New Mexico Press, University of North Carolina Press, University of Arizona Press, and Yale University Press.
Gustavo Pérez Firmat's account of his life as a Cuban-American, Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano's Coming-of-Age in America, brought him national acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Pérez Firmat has also published Idle Fictions, a study of the "vanguard novel" popular in the 1930s, and the novel Anything but Love, the story of a perfectionist looking for his perfect love. Library Journal contributor Libbhy Romero called Pérez Firmat "one of the most significant figures in Cuban-American literature."
In his first book, Idle Fictions, Gustavo Pérez Firmat examines a lost genre of Hispanic literature—the "vanguard novel" that flourished between 1926 and 1934. As reviewer Carolyn Richmond noted in Hispania, the vanguard novel, "by its very nature, eludes all attempts at categorization." Thus it has come to be defined mainly negatively in terms of what it lacks: "lifelike characters," "a believable fictional world," and "a structured plot," according to James H. Abbott in a World Literature Today review. Pérez Firmat divides his treatment of the genre into sections on the literary criticism of the period and on the novels themselves, including works by Pedro Salinas and Jaime Torres Bodet. Praising Pérez Firmat's "brilliant" analyses of vanguard novels, Richmond called Idle Fictions "a kind of organic, many-faceted exploration of the relationship between criticism and fiction" and judged it "superbly written."
The title Next Year in Cuba is taken from a common Christmas expression in the Cuban-American community, referring to the perennial hope that the Cubans exiled in America will be able to celebrate their next Christmas in a post-communist Cuba. Pérez Firmat was brought to America as a child after his family fled Cuba following the takeover by communist leader Fidel Castro. In his memoir, he recounts his childhood in Havana, his family's escape to Florida, and his lifelong quest to reconcile his native culture with that of his adopted homeland. According to Janet St. John in Booklist, Pérez Firmat presents his story "with grace and intimacy," making Next Year in Cuba "revelatory, sincere, and tremendously absorbing."
In the novel Anything but Love Pérez Firmat tells of Frank Guerra, a Cuban-American whose belief in romantic love moves him to divorce his faithful wife and take up with a schoolteacher named Catherine O'Neal. But his dramatic change leaves Frank with an empty feeling and he begins to doubt his new lover's affection for him. A contributor for Hispania News called Anything but Love a "steamy and sardonic first novel."
Among the author's other books is Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, in which the Pérez Firmat revisits his familiar theme of coping with living in two cultures simultaneously. In addition to the author exploring his Cuban-American identity, he also examines the influence of Cuban-Americans on American culture and how the past three generations of Cuban-Americans differ. In the process, the author writes of what he views as the three stages a Cuban exile's evolving life: reduplication of home life, alienation, and ultimately a new adaptation to life in America. Among the Cuban-American artists he discusses are entertainers such as the late Desi Arnaz and Gloria Estefan and writers such as Oscar Hijuelos and Jose Kozer. "Pérez Firmat argues that between Cuban culture (represented by his parents' generation) and American culture (represented by his children) exists a hyphenated cultural zone (represented by himself and other one-and-a-halfers [born in Cuban but raised in the United States])," wrote Maria de Los Angeles Torres in the Nation. "In this rich zone the hyphen is a plus, not a minus, but the movement is always toward the American side. Furthermore, the ‘Cuban’ and the ‘American’ are distinct and mutually exclusive components that are not defined beyond their geographic coordinates." The reviewer went on to call the book "essential reading." MLN contributor Noel Valis commented: "This is a delightful book."
Pérez Firmat once told CA: "I was born in Havana, but I was made in the USA. Hence I write in Spanish (my mother tongue), in English (my other tongue), and in diverse combinations of the two. My writings, critical and creative (but is there a difference?), take turns at reflecting upon, complaining about, and rejoicing in this ambivalent cultural and linguistic positioning."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Literature, September, 1995, Ilan Stavans, review of Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, p. 615.
Booklist, September 15, 1995, Janet St. John, review of Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano's Coming-of-Age in America, p. 129.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December, 1994, P.I. Rose, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 683; April, 2004, R. Ocasio, review of Tongue Ties: Logo-Eroticism in Anglo-Hispanic Literature, p. 1473.
Hispania, May, 1984, Carolyn Richmond, review of Idle Fictions: The Hispanic Vanguard Novel, 1926-1934.
Hispania News, July 21, 2000, review of Anything but Love.
Hispanic, August, 1995, Milexis J. Rodriguez, review of Next Year in Cuba, p. 60.
Hispanic Review, summer, 1991, Keith Ellis, review of The Cuban Condition: Translation and Identity in Modern Cuban Literature.
Latin American Literary Review, January-June, 1992, Carlos J. Alonso, review of The Cuban Condition, p. 88.
Library Journal, September 1, 1994, James E. Ross, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 202; August, 1995, Philip Y. Blue, review of Next Year in Cuba, p. 84; July, 2000, Libbhy Romero, review of Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio, p. 71; June 1, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 58.
MLN, March, 1987, review of Literature and Liminality Festive Readings in the Hispanic Tradition, p. 399; March, 1995, Noel Valis, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 464.
Modern Fiction Studies, winter, 1983, review of Idle Fictions, p. 809.
Modern Language Review, January, 1991, Verity Smith, review of The Cuban Condition, p. 238.
Multicultural Review, summer, 2006, Danilo H. Figueredo, review of Tongue Ties, p. 77.
Nation, June 19, 1995, Maria de Los Angeles Torres, review of Next Year in Cuba and Life on the Hyphen, p. 899.
Publishers Weekly, July 10, 1995, review of Next Year in Cuba, p. 48.
Reference & Research Book News, December, 1994, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 10.
Reference Services Review, January 1, 1999, review of Life on the Hyphen, p. 205.
Times Literary Supplement, October 20, 1989, Jo Labanyi, review of The Cuban Condition, p. 1165.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1983, James H. Abbott, review of Idle Fictions; summer, 2000, Ilán Stavans, review of Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio, p. 681; September-October, 2006, Wilfrido Corral, review of Tongue Ties, pp. 75-76.
Gustavo Pérez Firmat Web Site,http://www.gustavoperezfirmat.com (October 16, 2003).