Georgina Herrera shares more than just poetry


Georgina Herrera talks about her life and inspirations. Photo credit: Dominique Diaz

Herrera’s responses were translated into English by Sara E. Cooper, Chico State professor and Cubanabooks head. See the video at the end of the story. 

Georgina Herrera, Afro-Cuban poet, sits comfortably in an oversized cream colored chair in the quiet office of Trinity Hall 131. Her long and airy yellow top contrasts her deep colored skin and short gray hair. She takes a deep breath, surveys the room and then begins to answer questions. Without any background knowledge it would be hard to tell that Herrera is completely out of her element in this new world.

Herrera is the author of nine books of poetry. Her most recent book, “Always Rebellious: Cimarroneando,” serves almost as a metaphor for her long and rebellious life as a female Cuban author. Herrera was in Chico for a night of poetry reading and Cuban culture, as well as to speak about her work at an international forum on campus. This was her first time in California.

Georgina Herrera and Sara E. Cooper are all smiles after the International Forum on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Romeo Espinal
Georgina Herrera and Sara E. Cooper are all smiles after the International Forum on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

“The inspiration for the book was my life experiences, it is a definition of me,” Herrera said.

Cimarroneando directly translated is a word used for slaves who have run off into the wild to free themselves, she explained during the forum.

“For me, cimarroneando means to take a stand when something is wrong,” Herrera said. “Just like they were. When I feel something is wrong, or needs to be rectified or shown, I do that with my book.”

The poems in “Always Rebellious” reflect many of the themes that Herrera has experienced in Cuban culture: black women, war, the helpless and love, she said.

“In my poems, I try to include universal themes,” Herrera said. “I try to paint a word picture of something I have seen.”

Growing up in a poverty-stricken part of Cuba, Herrera was often told “no.” She was in eighth grade when her family told her that she would no longer be attending school, and that she was to stay home and take care of the house and her siblings, Herrera said.

Georgina Herrera smiles fondly as she reminisces about her life.
Dominique Diaz
Georgina Herrera smiles fondly as she reminisces about her life.

At the age of 20, Herrera fled to Havana to start a life of freedom of her own, she said. As a young Afro-Cuban women with little education, she had to work hard to develop a career for herself. By the age of 26, her first piece of poetry was published.

“I work very hard and am inspired, but inspiration is one thing and work is another,” Herrera said. “I always work my poems. I want to make sure every word is the right word. I want my poetry to be understood by as many people as possible. If people understand my poetry and the things I have seen, then they will take action.”

From the very beginning of her writing career, Herrera knew she wanted to share her poetry with the world, she said.

“If there is something that I know, that I have seen, I want to share it with others,” Herrera said. “With my poetry, if I can make that connection with another person, then they can know what I know.”

When Herrera began her writing however, she had no idea the effect it would have on others, she said.

“I used to be afraid of the attention, but now I feel like it is a treasure, a prize, and I feel very content and gratified that I can reach people through my poetry,” Herrera said.

A lifetime of Cuban culture and literature is impossible to convey in a 30 minute interview, or even a short visit. She summed up the interview with a memory of the “old black women,” who are a very central part of her poems, she said.

After the interview, she leaned back into the cream chair and said, “I’ll end by saying what the old black ladies used to say, ‘Here I am, anything I can do for you.'”

Sarah Strausser can be reached at [email protected] or @strausser_sarah on Twitter.