Cuban Writer Zoé Valdés Compares Richard Blanco to Reinaldo Arenas


Ariel González comments on a recent furious post by well-known Cuban writer Zoé Valdés against Cuban-American inaugural poet Richard Blanco. He is referring to the post “The Greatness of Reinaldo Arenas, the Vulgarity of Richard Blanco,” where the author calls Blanco a leftist, Obama-loving, cowardly queer, among other things. Let’s just say that the words “maricón” and “mariconería” abound in her original diatribe. Here are excerpts from González’s observations:

It was inevitable that Richard Blanco’s selection as President Obama’s second inaugural poet would provoke a response from a predictably vocal segment of the Cuban exile community. But I was surprised at the shoddy screed Zoe Valdes, a writer of distinction, posted recently on the right-wing website, Babalu Blog. This assault on Blanco (translated from the original Spanish by Alberto de la Cruz) is digressive, self-contradictory and based on false premises. It warrants attention, however, as an admonition against allowing ideologically-driven emotion to overtake stylistic rigor and sound judgment.

After her opening, which insinuates that Blanco shares more than first names with the Cuban apparatchik Ricardo Alarcon, Valdes turns to Blanco’s career. “According to what he has said in several interviews, Richard Blanco has been a poet for the last two to four years. In other words, he got a late start in poetry.” Ah, but the facts prove otherwise. [. . .] The problem is that Valdes builds her case upon this quicksand. She wants us to believe that politics, not merit, was behind Blanco’s appearance at the Capitol.

He checked off two demographic boxes: gay and Hispanic. But liberals would never have agreed to an unabashedly anti-Castro Cuban, so they tapped someone with “lukewarm points of view,” an “Obamanista cynic” whose (fairly benign) criticism of his fellow exiles is, in Valdes’ jaundiced eyes, “vulgar.” And yet this arbiter of taste is not above resorting to slurs; she calls Blanco a “tacky queer” and a “gay asshole.”  Blanco’s sexuality is especially concerning; he’s too out and proud for Valdes’ taste. He can’t “stop screaming from the rooftops that he is gay.” But don’t interpret this as homophobic. Valdes’ siblings are gay. (The “some of my best friends” defense.) [. . .] What she objects to is Blanco’s lack of cojones.

Which brings us to the great Cuban writer and dissident Reinaldo Arenas. Valdes considers him an exemplar. Unlike Blanco, he “did not announce he was gay.” She concedes that he was “very queer in real life, but he was also very manly in literature, very manly in politics, and he was not afraid to say it in a thousand different ways. And this is what Blanco is missing: Manliness before the irrefutable truth.”

Let’s ignore the offensive implication that manliness and queerness are mutually exclusive. Arenas was indeed a brave soul. His memoir, Before Night Falls, recounts his heroic struggle with the Castro regime. He recorded it on 20 cassettes in the throes of AIDS. It’s an extraordinary document, a testament to artistic discipline and integrity in the face of dehumanizing oppression. But to claim, as Valdes does, that Arenas “did not announce he was gay,” is laughable. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut about it. I don’t believe he ever spent a day of his adult life in the closet. And it cost him dearly. In Cuba he was persecuted for his sexual brazenness as much as for his “counterrevolutionary” novels and poems.

When he finally escaped to Miami, Arenas become disillusioned with the exile community. A proud child of dirt-eating peasants, he despised Communism but supported socialist reforms. This didn’t sit well with the exiles. Nor did his atheism and homosexuality. He soon left for New York. In Before Night Falls and other works, he excoriates Miami and the exiles; the language is sharper and bitterer than anything found in Blanco’s poems. And yet Valdes gives him a pass. [. . .]

Valdes may be right when she wagers that Arenas would have declined the honor of reading at the inauguration. (The man carried an Atlas-sized chip on his shoulder.) But she embarrasses herself further by calling Obama “a president whose only accomplishment has been to sugarcoat Castroism, throwing daisies at pigs under the guise of cultural exchanges and travel.” [. . .]

For full article, see

For Valdés’ post (translated into English), see

For her original post, see


One thought on “Cuban Writer Zoé Valdés Compares Richard Blanco to Reinaldo Arenas

  1. Cuban Writer Zoé Valdés Compares Richard Blanco to Reinaldo Arenas

    It is true that Richard Blanco started out well with his poetry but is now stuck in that rut that many Latino writers fall into – that with the cute sprinkling of Spanish words here and there. It ends up as artificial coloring, diluting the point of the poem. But Zoé’s criticism of his character and that of president Obama’s is way out of line. Isn’t it time to sober up?

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