Abel Guelmes Roblejo

The writer Abel Guelmes Roblejo, a native of Havana, has quickly made his way into our literary scene. Love has united him to these lands and he, perhaps because of sensitivity, the need to feel useful, a nose for good writing, a sense of belonging, or any other reason, has been concerned and occupied with making the work of our writers visible, training other talents and even problematizing processes inherent to cultural manifestation or machinery, in its broadest vision.

Las Tunas, Cuba.- A series of lectures on science fiction, the Lunes crítico space, the section Huellas con olor a tinta (shared this summer in 26), as well as reviews in prestigious publications such as El Caimán Barbudo, attest to its determination to make an important part of Tunisian culture visible, especially by promoting the work of lesser-known and/or media-known authors.

Behind this, there is his interest in knowing the environment and the strings that pull it, and - for this reason - he is part of the regular public in various activities, such as clubs, gatherings, and concerts.
This approach, so little imitated here, is vital for unraveling our culture and delving into the work of its protagonists, as well as forming one's criteria and, to some extent, helping to shed light on certain obscurities.

But these concerns come from before, emanating from his work as one of the coordinators of the National Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature Espacio Abierto, which - he tells me - was founded in 2009, is the only one of its kind in Cuba and promotes events, even with an international presence.

"We realized that there were people throughout the country with an interest in the fantastic. We saw this, for example, with the participation in the competition we organized. During the pandemic, we started holding online events and the influx of people from different provinces was significant. But, especially with young writers, we noticed a lack of knowledge of the genre and even prejudice towards it. They could say: 'I don't like science fiction and fantasy'. And when asked what they knew about it, they usually mentioned Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. But that's not all, there's a lot more...”

The Onelio Jorge Cardoso literary training center would later consolidate his interest. Working there, he became convinced of the importance of a workshop or series of conferences to demystify the genre.

Abel Guelmes Roblejo

"Normally people think of the subject from an English-speaking point of view, as if the only science fiction or fantasy that works is that which comes from the United States and Europe, and not ours. However, there are very good Cuban writers in that sense, names like Malena Salazar Maciá, Erick J. Mota Pérez, Yoss (pseudonym of José Miguel Sánchez Gómez), Elaine Vilar Madruga, Marié Rojas Tamayo, María de Jesús Chávez Vilorio, Yadira Álvarez Betancourt, Juan Alexander Padrón and others. From this province I met, for example, Junior Fernández Guerra," she says.

Demystifying the genre has therefore been one of the paths of his work, his own and that of other colleagues committed to broadening knowledge of the subject. "While realistic literature is limited to what we know as real, be it laws of physics, laws of geography, social laws..., in science fiction and fantasy the limit is your imagination. But, although it has its peculiarities, it uses the same narrative techniques as the rest of literature," he explains.

In January this year, he gave a short three-day course on the subject in Las Tunas, which was the incentive to cultivate this knowledge here as well. "I was impressed by the narrative quality of the territory. From there I had the idea of organizing a workshop or series of lectures on science fiction and fantasy in this province. I then presented the project to Eduardo Rosell (head of the Literature Section of the AHS) and Maike Machado (director of the Provincial Book and Literature Centre), who quickly supported it, as did other people.
That's how the dream began to take shape," he says.
This young man, author of the books Últimos Servicios and Menú completo, confesses to having stage fright, but he also feels more comfortable among writers. The series of conferences, hosted this summer at the Tunisian headquarters of the Nicolás Guillén Foundation and the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, left him with a taste of the usefulness of virtue. "At first many people thought that I didn't write science fiction and fantasy, but then they realized that I did. They told me, for example, 'I didn't know you wrote science fiction and fantasy'," he says.

The meetings as such included a theoretical and a practical part, a WhatsApp group in which exercises and information of interest were posted. The results were interesting. "I remember a lady from a community far from the city who came to me saying that she only wrote poetry and, after one meeting, she came up with a children's story. There was a girl, for example, who wrote a text about gender equality and the machismo that still exists in society. Therefore, other topics came up, mainly social ones.

"On one occasion, I even asked them to transform a story as an exercise and I chose one of my authorship. And the ones that were sent to me changed, I liked them better than my own story. We also showed short audiovisuals, in which we analyzed how to put into practice what we had seen in theory. I shared with them the story El pastor, by Michel Encinosa Fú, to show that it is possible to make purely Cuban science fiction and fantasy. The workshop participants socialized their work and took home exercises. And as a result of all that, at the suggestion of Yeinier Aguilera, the idea of creating an anthology on science fiction and fantasy, with Tunisian writers, was cooked up," he says.

The concertmaster Elvira Skourtis, who was able to witness this experience, reaffirms the dynamic, pleasant, conversational, and detailed way in which Abel transmitted his knowledge at the Balcón de Oriente. However, he does not like to be called a "teacher", but rather considers himself just another workshop leader. "I'm always learning. I may know some things, but I don't know everything. Besides, I've had great teachers and I admire that term a lot. I feel I'm not at that level yet," he says.

Beyond the limits of the region, I inquire about the topics that drive fantastic literature in Cuba today. On this subject, Abel says: "One of the key elements that, in my opinion, move it today is cultural decolonization. We put dragons, goblins, elves... to one side and concentrate on our own culture, which is not only Taino but also African and Spanish.

"In Cuba, people write about music, religion (e.g. the orishas), gender equality, violence... There is a great movement, coined and theorized by Erick J. Mota, which he calls 'tropical dystopia', which consists of laughing at our problems and writing very serious things in a humorous tone. This is very different from what is being written in our region, with a few exceptions".

In a context in which there is still a certain undervaluing of science fiction and fantasy within literary genres, often due to ignorance, it is encouraging to find voices like that of Abel Guelmes Roblejo, who are committed to strengthening the development of this aspect in Cuba, and beyond.

"In general, fantastic literature is that which breaks with the established, with what we know as reality, for example, a child who suddenly begins to fly like Remedios, the beautiful one, in One Hundred Years of Solitude", he points out. And with the conviction to continue promoting good work and confronting those generic prejudices that invade literature, I end the dialogue with this writer, editor, and reviewer who has come, fortunately for us, to fill some gaps, bet on alliances, and break certain limits in pursuit of cultural development.