Today we remember Antonio Benítez-Rojo (Havana, 1931), who passed away on January 5, 2005 in Northampton, Massachusetts. Our use of the title of his influential text, The Repeating Island, for the name of our blog represents both our tribute to a lost friend, esteemed writer, and exemplary scholar as well as our focus on pan-Caribbean literatures and cultures.
A novelist, essayist and short-story writer, Antonio Benítez-Rojo was the Thomas B. Walton, Jr. Memorial Professor at Amherst College. In addition to his 20 years of teaching at Amherst, Benítez-Rojo held visiting positions at Harvard, Yale and Brown universities, among others. He was widely regarded as the most influential Cuban author of his generation. His work has been translated into nine languages and collected in more than 50 anthologies.
Tute de reyes, his 1967 collection of short stories, won the prestigious Casa de las Americas Prize, and Sea of Lentils, his 1979 historical novel, was reviewed by John Updike in The New Yorker and listed as a notable book in The New York Times. He won the Pushcart Prize for his 1990 story “Heaven and Earth,” and was co-winner of the 1993 Modern Language Association Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize for his book La isla que se repite: el Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna [The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective (1989)]. He also wrote the award-winning screenplay for Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s film The Survivors and contributed to more than a dozen scholarly books. His A View from the Mangrove (1998) is considered to be the third part of a trilogy including Sea of Lentils and The Repeating Island. His last novel was Mujer en traje de batalla [Woman in Battle Dress] based on the life of Henriette Faber, a Swiss woman who studied medicine in Paris in male disguise, served as army surgeon under Napoleon, and then practiced medicine in Cuba.
Benítez-Rojo is best known for The Repeating Island. As Robert Antoni explains, “In these essays he probes deeply and illuminates as never before writers ranging from Bartolomé de las Casas to Alejo Carpentier, including such contemporary authors as Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, and Gabriel García Marquéz; at the same time, and in the midst of these literary critiques, he uses strategies including the simulacrum and theories of fractal mathematics and Chaos in order to define the indefinable, one of the least known and most elusive regions of the modern world: the Caribbean.”
For full biographic article, see http://www3.amherst.edu/magazine/issues/05spring/college_row/benitez_rojo.html
For an interview of Benítez Rojo by Robert Antoni, see http://www.bombsite.com/issues/82/articles/2536