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Poet, novelist, and literary theorist, Severo Sarduy was one of the most groundbreaking Latin American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1937, he moved to Havana in 1956 to study medicine, but soon gave up his scientific pursuits for the arts. From 1960 until the time of his death, the poet lived in Paris. Sarduy died due to complications with AIDS in 1993. The poetry in Footwork makes it clear why Gabriel García Márquez once called Sarduy the best writer in the Spanish language. Although Sarduy’s novels have been translated into English and received praise from such writers as Roland Barthes, Richard Howard, and James McCourt, this is the first collection of his poetry to appear in English translation. Footwork presents poems from throughout Sarduy’s life, following the thrilling trajectory of a great thinker.
Wayne Koestenbaum—poet, critic, novelist, artist, performer—has published 21 books, including The Cheerful Scapegoat, Figure It Out, Camp Marmalade, My 1980s & Other Essays, The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, Humiliation, Hotel Theory, Circus, Andy Warhol, Jackie Under My Skin, and The Queen’s Throat (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award). In 2020 he received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. He has exhibited his paintings in solo shows at White Columns (New York), 356 Mission (L.A.), and the University of Kentucky Art Museum. His first piano/vocal record, Lounge Act, was released by Ugly Duckling Presse Records in 2017; he has given musical performances at The Kitchen, REDCAT, Centre Pompidou, The Walker Art Center, The Artist’s Institute, The Poetry Project, and the Renaissance Society. Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library acquired his literary archive in 2019. He is a Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
Raquel Salas Rivera (Mayagüez, 1985) is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, and editor. His honors include being named the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and receiving the New Voices Award from Puerto Rico’s Festival de la Palabra. He is the author of five full-length poetry books. His third book, lo terciario/ the tertiary won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry and was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award. His fourth book, while they sleep (under the bed is another country), was longlisted for the 2020 Pen America Open Book Award and was a finalist for CLMP’s 2020 Firecracker Award. His fifth book, x/ex/exis won the inaugural Ambroggio Prize. antes que isla es volcán/before island is volcano, his sixth book, is an imaginative leap into Puerto Rico’s decolonial future and is forthcoming from Beacon Press in 2022. He has co-edited two anthologies. Puerto Rico en mi corazón is a bilingual anthology based on a special collection of handmade letterpress broadsides by contemporary Puerto Rican poets. La piel del arrecife is the first anthology of Puerto Rican trans poetry. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and writes and teaches in Puerto Rico.
David Francis, translator of Footwork, serves as Dean of Grace Hopper College at Yale University, where he teaches in the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. He has received a Fulbright fellowship to translate into English poems by the Colombian writer José Asunción Silva. His translations or poems have appeared in Inventory, The FSG Book of 20th-Century Latin American Poetry, Guernica, Exchanges, The Brooklyn Rail, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. He has an M.F.A. in poetry writing from Columbia University and taught previously at Tufts, Harvard, and the University of Virginia.
More on Severo Sarduy
Born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1937, Severo Sarduy moved to Havana in 1956 to study medicine. Following Fidel Castro’s victory in the Cuban Revolution, Sarduy won a scholarship to study art history in Europe. He boarded a ship to Madrid in December of 1959 and, a gay man viewing Castro’s increasingly homophobic regime from abroad, never went back to the island.
Often homoerotic and imbued with allusions to art, the absent or decaying body, the history of science, jazz and folk music, insular landscapes, and the author’s Spanish, African, and Chinese heritage, Sarduy’s poetry has rarely appeared in translation, but his literary oeuvre was vast and included the landmark novel From Cuba with a Song (1967), translated by Suzanne Jill Levine in 1972. Sarduy’s third book, Cobra (1971), won France’s Medici Prize and high praise from Roland Barthes, who called it, “a paradisiac text . . . the pledge of continuous jubilation, the moment when by its very excess verbal pleasure chokes and reals into bliss.” For his part, Richard Howard hailed Sarduy as a writer who “has everything . . .so brilliant, so funny, and so bewilderingly apt in his borrowings, his derivations, as well as in his inventions.”
Indeed, Sarduy was so prolific with his verbal innovations that Gabriel García Márquez once called him the best writer in the Spanish language. His neo-baroque style influenced such Spanish-language novelists as Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Goytisolo, and Carlos Fuentes while his involvement in Parisian literary circles and work with the publishing house Editions du Seuil is responsible for bringing One Hundred Years of Solitude into the French language. From 1960 until the time of his death, the poet lived in Paris, where he worked with Roland Barthes, Phillipe Sollers, and Julia Kristeva, among many others, on the literary magazine Tel Quel. Sarduy died due to complications with AIDS in 1993.