Renée Méndez Capote (1901-1989)

Today marked the birth of Cuban writer and journalist Renée Méndez Capote, author of Memorias de una cubanita que nació con el siglo [Memoirs of a Cuban Girl Who Was Born with the Century], considered a classic of testimonial literature and other books such as Dos niños en la Cuba colonial [Two Children in Colonial Cuba] and Amables figuras del pasado [Amiable Figures of the Past]. She was born in Havana on November 12, 1901—as her testimonial book states, “with the century”—and passed away in 1989.

Renée Méndez Capote was home-schooled with French and British governesses. She learned how to speak English, Italian, and French. She studied music, painting and Spanish ballet, and practiced sports such as tennis, horseback riding, swimming, and rowing. By 1918 she created and edited the journal Artes y Letras [Arts and Letters] with her sister Sara. She was also a French teacher at Colegio La Luz.

With journalist Berta Arocena, Méndez Capote founded the women’s organization Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club of Havana to promote cultural and social development. However, she was later expelled for defending the right of black women to join the institution. She then worked as the Secretary of Public Education and Fine Arts. In 1934, she was chosen to be the Cuban consul in France but was never able to serve, having been wrongly accused (most probably, because of her socialist ideals) of starting the fire on the Morro Castle ship, on which she was traveling to New York.

Méndez Capote later worked for the radio, the Ministry of Education, and the José Martí National Library of Cuba and as editor for its journal. As a journalist, she worked for Juventud Rebelde and contributed to numerous publications including Diario de la Marina, El País, Grafos, Social, Bohemia, Mañana, El Mundo, La Gaceta de Cuba, Unión, Verde Olivo, Mujeres, Revolución y Cultura, Cine Cubano, Actas del Folklore, Correo Musical, and Surco.

The author was an avid traveler; she visited Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, among other countries. In her lifetime, Méndez Capote was also the recipient of many awards and honors.

For full biography, see http://www.encaribe.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=722:renee-mendez-capote&catid=97:prensa&Itemid=107

2 thoughts on “Renée Méndez Capote (1901-1989)

  1. Renee Mendez Capote was never accused or suspected of setting the fire in the Morro Castle, according to the investigation reports. The New York Times reported that she barely escaped with her life from her deluxe stateroom after squeezing out through a porthole. This article also omits mentioning that in the 1920s she was married to Manuel Solis Mendieta, whose father owned the fashionable El Encanto department store in Havana.

  2. I was very close to Renee and although she would talk of the disaster of “The Morro Castle” as one of her most terrifying experiences of her life, she never mentioned being accused or suspected of provoking the incident.

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