News; things to look for, The power of the arts, Travel

Why the heck do I organize trips to Cuba? I am not a travel agent…I’m a novelist, poet, teacher!!!

February 20, 2016


Why have I

a quite busy professional writer; teacher of creative writing; writer’s consultant; film maniac and occasional Cuban film festival curator; arts adorer; salsa dancer and music devourer; and, of course, lover of books, and lover of justice —

continued to organize trips to Cuba? 



Like my Multicultural Cuba Journey, April 20-30, to Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago?


Many good reasons; here are a few: 


Cuba is one of the places where all the arts have reached extraordinary levels, and with a relative lack of resources; but more than that – it is a place where the importance of the arts is fully recognized; where there is a whole system of teachers of the arts so that every person can be exposed to the arts and develop their own gifts. It is a place where it is understood that this access to and education in the arts are human rights; the arts a necessary aspect of one’s development. The thinking about all this started way before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, way before a system developed for teaching and employing teachers of the arts throughout the country, in schools, in senior centers, in casas de cultura – community centers called Houses of Culture.


There are many discussions to be had about the development of the arts in Revolutionary Cuba, about freedom of expression, about the availability of the arts to all in the midst of a lack of resources, about the ways the arts are celebrated and part of the daily lives of all Cubans…a history that includes, for instance, the beginning of the Cuban film industry with the establishment of the Cuban film institute (ICAIC) in March of 1959—and it is in film, I have been told many times and can see it for myself in many Cuban films, that Cubans air their dirty laundry — Cuban film can be tough and critical, and brilliant…


But the stunning level and ubiquitous presence of the arts in Cuba did not start only from a push by the Cuban Revolution—Dance and music, much of it so deeply tied to Afrocuban culture and religion, are both handed down through the generations and taught by masters with the reverence and love it deserves. And one of the intellectual parents of the Cuban attitude towards the arts and their necessity for all, participation by all, is José Martí, who died in 1895 as a combatant in the war of independence against the Spanish. This brilliant writer, poet, essayist, and political philosopher, said, “Ser culto es el único modo de ser libre.” One must be cultured to be free. The Cubans have lived this, and both cultivated and fought for and developed a level of artistic expression that one must experience deeply to really understand.


Artists are celebrated. The first time I went to Cuba, I had perhaps published one poem and certainly no stories nor novels, and was tentative and frightened about my love of writing. A wonderful translator, Lilia, asked me, “So, what do you love to do?” 


Head down, I mumbled, “Write poetry.”


“Poeta!” she called me then, and every time she saw me. I was astounded. I had to prove nothing. Just that I loved the art, and tried to practice it. As a working class young woman who had been homeless and hungry, this title, so freely and respectfully given, helped me know I was in another world, or at least another world view.


There is so much more. But for writers, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, scholars, travelers, and lovers of the magical real* of the Americas, a trip to Cuba is, well, highly recommended!!


So, I invite you to consider my upcoming trip, April 20-30, to Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. For more information, see links below to the brochure, and in the next note I want to tell you a bit more about why I am doing a journey that is a Multicultural Cuba Journey.


 and here at my website’s Cuba Travel page:


Till soon. Think about coming along on this trip. Soon I will be pushing my writing back up to top priority, and doing these trips only for institutions and for groups already organized. 


See you here, there, somewhere,

Anya Achtenberg



Indeed, the first mention of magical realism in the Americas was actually not by the magnificent Gabriel García Márquez—or, Gabo, as the Cubans called him—he was one of the three founders of the International School of Film and Television near Havana, and taught there regularly for years—

–but, by the astonishing novelist and musicologist Alejo Carpentier in the 1949 prologue to his novel about the Haitian Revolution, In the Reign of this World / En el reino de este mundo.

**The photo is of a hilltop in Gibara in northeastern Cuba, during the Festival of Poor (alternative) Cinema, taken by photographer and cinematographer David Schnack.

3 thoughts on “Why the heck do I organize trips to Cuba? I am not a travel agent…I’m a novelist, poet, teacher!!!”

  1. Oh, thank you for this post about the wonders of Cuba. I wish I had known you way back when you organized this trip–I would have gone along. Back in the 80’s I went to Cuba from California with the Venceramos Brigade and Pastors for Peace to help bring much needed medical supplies..even though Cuba was suffering so much during the heartless embargo they still welcomed us with open arms and provided lovely hospitality…..I even got a kiss on the cheek from Fidel Castro himself!!! Viva Cuba!!!


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