Manzano, Juan Francisco (1797–1853)

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Manzano, Juan Francisco (1797–1853)

Juan Francisco Manzano (b. 1797; d. 19 July 1853), Cuban poet, narrator, and playwright. The only slave in Spanish American history to become an accomplished writer, Manzano is one of the founders of Cuba's national literature. Born to Toribio Manzano and María Pilar Infazón and slave to Doña Beatriz de Justiz, Marquesa de Justiz de Santa Ana, Manzano published his first collections of poems, Poesías líricas, in 1821, and Flores pasageras [sic] in 1830.

In 1835, at the request of the literary critic and opponent of slavery Domingo Del Monte, Manzano wrote his autobiography. In it, Manzano tells of his good and bad moments under slavery: he was treated as a privileged slave by his first mistress and was punished as a common one by the marquesa de Prado Ameno. Manzano concludes with his escape from his last mistress in 1817. Manzano learned to read and write on his own and his autobiography contains numerous grammatical errors. To make it more presentable, it was corrected but also altered by Anselmo Suárez y Romero, who made the slave's antislavery stance even stronger than Manzano intended. This version was translated into English by Richard Madden as "Life of the Negro Poet," and published in London in 1840. The original was lost until 1937.

After writing his autobiography and reading his autobiographical poem "Thirty Years" in the Del Monte literary circle in 1836, Del Monte and other Cuban intellectuals purchased Manzano's freedom for 800 pesos. Manzano continued to write poetry, publishing much of it in periodicals of the period, and he wrote a continuation of his autobiography, which was lost by Ramón de Palma. In addition, Manzano published his only play, Zafira, in 1842. In 1844 Manzano and Del Monte were falsely accused by the mulatto poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido) of participating in the anti-slavery Ladder Conspiracy. Manzano was imprisoned for one year. Once released, and fearful that his writing might implicate him in other liberal activities, he never wrote again.

See alsoSlavery: Abolition .


José Luciano Franco, "Juan Francisco Manzano, el poeta esclavo y su tiempo," in his Autobiografía, cartas y versos de Juan Francisco Manzano (1937).

Roberto Friol, Suite para Juan Francisco Manzano (1977).

William Luis, "Autobiografía del esclavo Juan Francisco Manzano: Versión de Suárez y Romero," in La historia en la literatura iberoamericana (1989), pp. 259-268; Literary Bondage: Slavery in Cuban Narrative (1990), pp. 82-100.

Anselmo Suárez y Romero, Autobiografía de Juan Francisco Manzano y otros escritos, edited by William Luis (forthcoming).

Additional Bibliography

Branche, Jerome. "'Mulato entre negros' (y blancos): Writing, Race, the Antislavery Question, and Juan Francisco Manzano's 'Autobiografía'." Bulletin of Latin American Research 20:1 (January 2002): 63-87.

Burton, Gera. Ambivalence and the Postcolonial Subject: The Strategic Alliance of Juan Francisco Manzano and Richard Robert Madden. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.

Miller, Marilyn Grace. "Rebeldía narrativa, resistencia poética y expresión 'libre' en Juan Francisco Manzano." Revista Iberoamericana 71:211 (April-June 2005): 417-436.

                                               William Luis