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Drawer novels: Where censorship is ineffective logo logo

An interview with the coordinators who carry out the project “inCUBAdora,” and the Drawer Novels Prize "Franz Kafka" for censored writers in Cuba.

Prague based independent archival library, Libri Prohibiti, wanted to extend a helping hand to friends on the island nation of Cuba. In 2008, the library organized the first Franz Kafka Drawer Novel Prize.

Independent Libraries Project for Cuba directors Berta Mexidor and Ramon Colas took part in the first edition; then the baton was passed on. The 2013 recipient of the award is jailed dissident writer, Angel Sanitesteban for his novel, “El verano en que Dios dormia,” (The Summer God Slept). spoke to Mexidor and Colas days after the event.

How and why was the prize conceived?

The idea was to make “visible" a series of novels that for political and / or civil reasons were (are) unprintable in Cuba--novels about the crisis and criticism of Cuban society in general. We are also trying to extend the prize to include story, which is one of the genres that traditionally is most written in Cuba.

What does the award consist of and how does the author get it?

The prize consists of the publication of the book (currently by publisher Fra, one of the best known publishers in the Czech Republic) and 1000 euros. Fifty copies of the books are sent to the author, plus it is put into circulation in the Independent Libraries network established within the country.

How is the prize promoted?

It is done through the network of independent libraries, and word-of-mouth. The latter, as usual, is very effective. Outside of Cuba it’s also promoted through normal channels: our website and in various newspapers and news platforms.

The competition is open to "all writers Cubans on the island.” How about those who have not yet broken rank with the authorities or have not been expelled from the institutions? Would they be able to participate?

Anyone can participate and it is open to all. What is rewarded is the work itself, not the moral-political journey of the author.

Has there been increased participation throughout the years? If so, does this reflect an increase of censorship?

Yes, the number of participants has increased. Also--and I think it has a great influence—the recipients are well-known: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Ernesto Santana, Ahmel Echeverria, Angel Santisteban, among others. That creates an echo, and brings prestige to the competition and to inCUBAdora in general. We think censorship is also on the rise, but its ineffectiveness is evident. We know that the more ineffective and superficial a system is, the more criminal it becomes.

To what extent do the love of literature and a desire to encourage others affect an endeavor like this? How much of your love does the magazine have?

A lot. is something that gives us satisfaction and helps the prize winners.
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    Luis Felipe Rojas

    Luis Felipe Rojas is a storyteller, poet, freelance photographer and multimedia producer. He has published five poetry collections spanning over a decade. His stories have appeared in various literary magazines. Rojas is the author of the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire. Follow him on Twitter: @alambradas