‘Born in Cuba in 1912, Virgilio Piñera was a prolific playwright, poet, novelist, essayist and short story writer. Famed for a sharp wit and an acid tongue, he was a polemicist who sniped from the sidelines and offered up an idiosyncratic and dark view of human nature.
Piñera spent much of the 1940’s and 50’s in Argentina in self-imposed semi-exile from the successive corrupt dictatorships and the moribund literary scene in Cuba. Amongst his friends in Buenos Aires he counted the Polish exile Witoldo Gombrowicz and headed the committee of writers who helped to translate Ferdydurke into Spanish.
Piñera returned to Havana in November 1958 shortly before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the new regime and the possibilities it offered him as a writer; however his status as an overt homosexual and non-conformist led to his eventual marginalisation during a well-documented period of recent Cuban history when homophobia, misplaced revolutionary fervour and petty bureaucracy stifled many forms of creative expression.
Virgilio Piñera spent the last ten years of his life in Cuba as a literary ghost. His works ceased to be published, his plays were no longer performed, and his name was excised from the reference books. He was not allowed to travel and the possibilities of seeing his work translated into other languages were lost to him. His output did not diminish however. When he died in 1979 eighteen boxes of unpublished material were recovered from his apartment. After his death, slowly but surely, the process of rehabilitation began and with it his posthumous transformation in Cuba from literary ghost to literary giant. This process has been slower to translate to the outside world. ‘
By Kate Eaton
‘Piñera’s work is funny, satirical and frequently outrageous. Written between 1945 and 1969 he is concerned by the illogical plight of the individual condemned to play out meaningless games within a world of social obligations.’
By Kate Eaton
Piñera’s style can be identified as absurdist. The premise of many of his plays rests on an abstract question of logic which the characters are destined to wrestle with.
However, Piñeira himself firmly locates this theatre within a Cuban context, rather than a European one.
'I am neither totally existentialist, nor totally absurd. I wrote 'Electra' before Sartre’s 'The Flies' and I wrote 'False Alarm' before Ionesco staged his 'Bald Prima Donna'. Although I lived on an island, disconnected from the cultural continent, I was nevertheless a child of my time for whom the problems of that age could not go unnoticed. What is more, I was living in pre revolution Cuba – a country that was existentialist to a fault and excessively absurd. There’s a joke that goes: ‘Ionesco was nearing the Cuban coast and no sooner did he see it than he said - there’s nothing for me to do here, these people are more absurd than my theatre….’ I am absurd and existentialist but in a Cuban way… more than anything my theatre is Cuban and that will be seen one day.' Virgilio Piñera 1960, translated by Kate Eaton
Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 18 June 2012.