Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary

She Led by Transgression

Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 62 illustrations Published: August 2015

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Latin American Studies

Taking part in the Cuban Revolution's first armed action in 1953, enduring the torture and killings of her brother and fiancé, assuming a leadership role in the underground movement, and smuggling weapons into Cuba, Haydée Santamaría was the only woman to participate in every phase of the Revolution. Virtually unknown outside of Cuba, Santamaría was a trusted member of Fidel Castro's inner circle and friend of Che Guevara. Following the Revolution's victory Santamaría founded and ran the cultural and arts institution Casa de las Americas, which attracted cutting-edge artists, exposed Cubans to some of the world's greatest creative minds, and protected queer, black, and feminist artists from state repression. Santamaría's suicide in 1980 caused confusion and discomfort throughout Cuba; despite her commitment to the Revolution, communist orthodoxy's disapproval of suicide prevented the Cuban leadership from mourning and celebrating her in the Plaza of the Revolution. In this impressionistic portrait of her friend Haydée Santamaría, Margaret Randall shows how one woman can help change the course of history.


"Santamaría’s story is one which should be told, and Randall does so vividly and insightfully."  — Publishers Weekly

“[T]he past is sometimes hard to put away, as Randall’s loving elegy to Haydée Santamaría shows. … Her life story demonstrates the heavy costs that prolonged revolutionary struggles can extract even from their apparent victors. A feminist sensibility adds poignancy to Randall’s tender, impressionistic portrait of a self-effacing and melancholic yet much revered Cuban fighter.” — Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs

“Margaret Randall brings a poet’s voice to her work. She captures history, gleans it from correspondence, interviews, and research, but imbues it with an uncommon lyrical quality. … Both of Randall’s recent books make Cuba come alive. These books are well timed with the restoration of diplomatic relations and the easing of travel restrictions. They convey the vibrant history of revolutionary change. They also give human dimensions to the heroes of that revolution, reminding us what they risked, the losses they suffered, and what they were able to achieve.”  — Alice Embree, The Rag Blog

“The life of Haydée Santamaría was divided between a few days of heroism and decades of bureaucratic toil. A new biography by the poet and activist Margaret Randall, who knew and loved her, tells stories of courage and sacrifice that sometimes make her sound too amazing to be true.” — Lorna Scott Fox, Bookforum

"Much more than a straightforward biography of one woman, this intimate account of revolution, bordering on the autobiographical at times, will surely inspire readers to ponder change in their own societies. ...Essential. All levels/libraries."
— B. A. Lucero, Choice

"Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary delves deftly into an extraordinary life, tying in the author’s own experiences and memories of Santamaría with biographical facts and interviews to present a detailed, yet personal history that speaks not only of the successes of the Revolution, but also the personal impact that such upheaval can bring. ...Margaret Randall has created an engaging book that invites the reader to share in her reflections on arguably one of the most influential, but lesser known, figures of the Cuban revolution." — Katherine Bailey, LSE Review of Books

"By exploring the many challenges in Haydée’s life, this work examines the impact of oft-hidden trauma, particularly on women doing justice work. An informative and engaging biography that brings the important life of Haydée to light." — WATER

"In brisk, gripping prose, Randall makes clear the challenges faced by a woman forging a new society in the second half of the twentieth century. . . . This is a deeply personal book about a heroic woman, written by someone justifiably proud to call Haydée Santamaría a friend." — Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, Monthly Review

"Randall’s book is a valuable introduction to Haydée Santamaría that may lead readers to further explore the life, times, and contradictions of a fascinating and critically important woman in leftist and revolutionary history." — Myrna Ivonne Wallace Fuentes, Hispanic American Historical Review

"[O]ne comes away with a sense of Santamaria as a principled and humane leader, as a woman before her time, and as an extraordinary, if flawed, human being. Because Randall is a poet her book is more lyrical and personal than academic in its approach. The end result is a book that sheds new light on one of Cuba's most vital, and least known, revolutionaries." — J. Patrice McSherry, Journal of Global South Studies

"Both narrative history and poetic homage ... the mixing of genres allows Randall to reveal the private tensions underlying Santamaria’s very publicly heroic life and to argue for a more just consideration of her legacy." — Barbara D. Riess, The Americas

"Randall delivers a portrait that is touching and empathetic, and which should be interesting to novices as well as specialists in Cuban history." — Michelle Chase, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"... Randall’s book constitutes a superb example of feminist recov-ery work. It is by far the most comprehensive account on this revolutionary woman, who is little known outside of Cuba. Political leanings aside, Randall’s book is essential to readers looking to educate themselves, expand their knowledge on or consider a more unorthodox narrative on either Haydée Santamaría or 20th-century Cuban history." — Silvia M. Roca-Martínez, The Latin Americanist

"Randall’s fine book is a lovely portrait of one of the most famous of Cuban revolutionaries." — Dirk Kruijt, Revista Europea de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe

"[T]his is an outstanding study that explores the complexities and contradictions of the life of Haydée Santamaría, a key figure in the attack on Moncada, rebellion, and revolution. It is written for anyone interested in social justice, women, culture, or Cuba. Readers will certainly not be disappointed." — Emily J. Kirk, International Journal of Cuban Studies

"Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary is essential reading for all involved in the struggles for social justice, and for those devoted to literature, the arts, and imagination as a core ingredient in realizing another world. In Margaret Randall's literary hands, Haydée is a study of an ordinary, yet remarkable woman redefining herself through commitment to revolutionary change and to the people she loved. It is also a magnificent and sorrowful meditation on revolution, loss, gender, and art. A major and outstanding book." — Bernardine Dohrn, activist, academic and clinical law professor, retired

"In her personal and passionate book, Margaret Randall dares to speak out about the pained silence surrounding Haydée Santamaría, perhaps the most important female figure of the Cuban revolution. Drawing on archives, interviews, memories, and imagination, Randall brings this complex woman to life, both to honor her quiet idealism and to mourn her death by suicide, which made it impossible for her to be seen as a proper national hero. This book opens the door to much-needed scholarship about the trauma suffered by women who sought to bring about social transformations on the island." — Ruth Behar, author of Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Margaret Randall is the author of dozens of books of poetry and prose, including Che on My Mind, and the translator of When Rains Became Floods: A Child Soldier's Story, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

1. Before We Begin  1

2. Why Haydée?  11

3. Early Life  31

4. Moncada  53

5. War  81

6. Witness  107

7. Casa de las Américas  127

8. Two, Three, Many Vietnams: Haydée and Che  159

9. The Woman beneath the Myth 177

10. Impossible Possibility: Elegy for Haydée Santamaría  195

Notes  207

Bibliography  217

Index  221
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