Poems by Juan Francisco Manzano

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Illustrated rustic ISBN: 9788498972696
Hardcover ISBN: 9788411260947

Juan Francisco Manzano (1797-1856) Cuba. Sometime in August 1797 he was born a slave. He was the first black-skinned man to read his own poems in public in Cuba. It was the sonnet “My thirty years”, read in the Havana gathering of Domingo del Monte in 1836 and published a year later.
The poet was forty years old and a certain fame had preceded him in that incursion. Fifteen years earlier he had published with license from his masters, Cantos a Lesbia in 1821. Then, in 1830, Flores Pasageras (sic), of which not a single copy is preserved.
From that reading and Del Monte’s interest came the idea of raising 850 pesos. That was the amount his owner demanded to pay for Manzano’s freedom.
In 1837 he was already a free man when the sonnets “A la ciudad de Matanzas” and “Mis treinta años” were published in El aguinaldo habanero . From that reading of the year 1836 also came the proposal of Del Monte for Manzano to write his autobiography. The Autobiography of a slave (also published in Linkgua, in the edition of José Luciano Franco).
In his correspondence with Del Monte, Manzano effusively expressed his debt of gratitude. Thus he wrote in a letter of December 11, 1834:

“My dear and Mr. Don Domingo: I cannot paint at your mercy the great surprise you caused me when I learned by your own mercy the direction you intend to give to my poor rhymes. When I consider them sailing to such different climates to see the public light in the emporium of the European Enlightenment, where so many vates rightly dispute primacy, everything seems to me a dream. Born in the torrid zone under the darkness of my destiny, they fly from the bosom of my misfortunes bearing the name of their unhappy author more than it deserves to be heard; to the truth sir: I waited a lot of good but not so much.”

Manzano refuses to be silenced, using language as a form of resistance and a way to reclaim his voice. Through the use of his poetry he tries to define himself as a poet. He struggles with it by not just being a slave. He claims that humanity of his that slavery tried to take away from him.
In doing so, he powerfully recovers his identity and resists the dehumanization of slavery. Manzano poetry is at the same time located within romanticism, although with a peculiar Creole flavor.
In the words of José Lezama Lima:

«Manzano is a surprising case of intuition for the poetic, with the little knowledge he could obtain, he has left us a small work full of musicality and poetic sympathy.»

Juan Francisco Manzano also wrote short stories. In them he mixed African legends, lullabies and in 1842 his tragedy in five acts Zafira came out of a Havana printing press.

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