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Birthplace
Peru
Residence
United States of America
Identities
United States of America, Cuba
DOB
Not provided
Gender
Male

Orlando Menes

Orlando Ricardo Menes was born in Lima, Peru in 1958 to Cuban parents. His father owned a furniture manufacturing and retail business until in 1968 a military coup toppled the government and began expropriating foreign owned businesses. In that year his family moved to Miami and, with the exception of a couple of years in Spain in the 1970s, Menes lived there until he moved to Chicago in the 1990s. He currently lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

"He went to school in Miami and has a BA and MA in English from the University of Florida. After college he taught in high schools and community colleges for ten years. In 1998 he was awarded a Ph D in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has taught at the University of Dayton, Ohio and currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

He describes himself as a Cuban-American with a position both at variance to that of the Cuban government (a visit in 1998 depressed him with the state of economic ruin, the oppression of opposition groups and the sexual exploitation of Cuban women by Western tourists) and of those Cuban-Americans who nurture a negrophobic attitude, for whom ‘Cuba is Spain on an island’. His Cuba, then, is one of the imagination, which stresses a powerful dimension of Africanness within its heterogeneity, and its cultural connections to the rest of the Caribbean, particularly as part of a shared African diasporic inheritance. 

Central to this focus is his ‘aleyo’s’ (non-believer’s) powerful attraction towards Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion which fuses Catholic and Yoruba spirituality. First encountered as a boy of twelve, and associated with evil and witchcraft by his mother, he became aware of its prevalence in Miami, but was suspicious and ignorant of its meaning. More recently, he writes, ‘I experienced the sublime beauty of this AfroCuban spirituality’ and saw the necessity of confronting the racism which lay behind the denigration of Santeria. In the writing of several poems in Rumba atop the Stones, he tells of coming by some unsummoned process of the imagination to crossing the boundary between his conventional Catholicism and writing a prayer to the Afro-Cuban/Yoruba deity Yemaya. He notes that he scrawled on his drafts ‘Que habre hecho’ (what have I done - have I become a pagan?). Despite his misgivings he left the prayer in and continued to allow his imagination to dictate his poetics, and to become a more conscious process in the writing of the poems. Inspired by the example of Nicolas Guillen, he saw that his poetics must be concerned with ‘the voice of the silenced other within the self’. Thus, following his steps to the ‘forbidden altars’ of Santeria, he began incorporating other elements of AfroCuba into his poetry, including the ritual language of mambo used by brujeria (Kongo spiritual leader). Indeed, he feels that in writing the poems of Rumba atop the Stones he was possessed, mesmerized with ‘an intensity I had not experienced before... Santeria inspired me to write poems of rare beauty...’.

His first poetry collection, Borderlands with Angels won the 1994 Bacchae Press Chapbook contest and in 1999 he was a finalist in the University of Illinois Press Poetry Series.

In addition to his own poetry, Orlando Ricardo Menes is a published translator of Latin American poets like Alfonsina Storni, Jose Kozer and Nancy Morejon.

Orlando Ricardo Menes’ detailed account of his discovery of Santeria can be found as ‘Forbidden Altars’ in the Afro-Hispanic Review, University of Missouri at Columbia, Fall, 2001."

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