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Alejo Carpentier: 1904-1980: Writer

Exiled In France

Still under the suspicion of the Cuban government, Carpentier was able with the help of French poet Robert Desnos to escape to Paris in 1928. He remained there for eleven years. While in Paris, Carpen-tier presented the Afro-Cuban burlesque Yamba-O, with music by M. F. Gaillard. He also became active in the French avant-garde, establishing friendships with such figures as Andre Breton, Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, Hector Villa-Lobos, and other major figures in the arts. Carpentier became interested in the surrealist movement, which helped to change his perceptions of Latin American realities. But he later broke away from the movement. At the same time, he continued to contribute to Cuban magazines and worked as a journalist, lecturer, and writer for radio. He even wrote a fashion column under the pseudonym "Jacqueline."

Ecue-Yamba-O!, Carpentier's first novel, was published in Madrid in 1933, while Carpentier was still living in Paris. The novel was not well received, but it contained elements that were to become hallmarks of Carpentier's major works: exploration of black culture and identity in Cuba, and criticism of social oppression. The book is now recognized as the first important work to break with the traditional literary style in Cuba, which had been influenced by European models. After the publication of Ecue-Yamba-O! Carpentier continued to write nonfiction. He also became increasingly involved in the anti-fascist movement in France and mingled with numerous Spanish American artists and writers who had moved to Paris for political reasons.

Exile gave Carpentier the opportunity to immerse himself in the study of American history and culture. As he remarked in a piece quoted in Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, "America was seen as an enormous nebula that I tried to understand, because I felt vaguely that my work originated there, that [my work] was going to be profoundly American." Indeed, critics have argued that this attempt to understand himself as an American—and thus the heir of indigenous, African, and European traditions—was the defining force of Carpentier's art.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyAlejo Carpentier: 1904-1980: Writer Biography - Early Writing Led To Political Activism, Exiled In France, Return To The Americas, Works Proliferated With Voluminous Knowledge