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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Award-winning writer discusses work

By Jennifer Covington/reporter

In an acting class at a community college, a future Pulitzer Prize winner discovered he was not an actor but a writer.

Cuban-born playwright Nilo Cruz, best known for his play Anna in the Tropics, recounted his beginnings as a writer and read from four of his plays March 25 on NE Campus.

Cruz dove right into the reading and discussion of his prize-winning Anna in the Tropics.

“I was so inspired by the tradition of lectors, or readers, in the cigar factories,” Cruz said.

His play draws on this tradition as illiterate workers pay someone to read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while they work in the cigar factory.

“I never start with a plot, or an outline; I hate outlines. I discover the play as it is written,” he said. “For this play, I tried to get into the minds and hearts of the characters to see how they saw the novel.”

Cruz read a scene from the play in which Conchita and Palomo discover that the events unfolding in their own lives are not so different from the events taking place in the novel.

Anna in the Tropics was awarded the Pulitzer Prize without ever being staged as a play, only the second time in award history a prize has been given in such a manner.

Cruz continued by reading from an earlier play, Two Sisters and a Piano, based on the life of Cuban poet and activist Maria Elena Cruz Varela.

The play takes place during the Pan American Games held in Havana in 1991. The two sisters are under house arrest so that visiting journalists and tourists have no access to them.

In this particular scene, one of Castro’s lieutenants checks on the sisters and reveals his fascination with the anti-Castro Maria.

Cruz concluded his presentation by reading a scene from the surrealistic play Lorca in a Green Dress.

“I wanted to write a biography of Frederico Garcia Lorca, but not a realistic one,” he said.

Cruz wrote in a form Lorca had been experimenting with just before his murder in 1936.

In the scene Cruz read, Lorca, just after death, speaks with other versions of himself: Lorca in a white suit or Lorca in bicycle pants.

Cruz ended the presentation with question-and-answer time. Students asked about his writing process and his inspiration.

“Go see others’ work and get inspired from what they are doing,” he said. “Experience art and fuel yourself.”

Cruz said that his love of theater also keeps him motivated.

He recounted the moment he heard the siren song of the theater, attending a performance of The Dresser. The next day, he enrolled in acting classes at Miami Dade College.

As part of the acting curriculum, students had to write some of their own pieces. Though he demonstrated acting talent, his acting instructor encouraged Cruz to pursue writing.

Cruz also advised students stricken with writers’ block to distance themselves from their writing to gain perspective or do more research and reading.

“Don’t divorce yourself from the world when you are writing,” he said.

Regaining his writing process was somewhat of a challenge for Cruz after winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2003.

“The prize makes you a celebrity. I was on a roller coaster for about two years, trying to be a faithful writer and attend openings,” he said.

“Once the storm passed, I had to come back to my house and be humble and understand my new role. I had to go back to who I used to be, the writer that I know.”

After the presentation, students, faculty and visitors from the community lined up to shake hands with Cruz and get his autograph.

Shawn Gann has been reading Cruz’s works for years and periodically directing his plays for the Latino community. He identifies with Cruz’s life.

“He’s an inspiration, where he comes from and what he’s been able to do,” he said. “He’s from an island. I’m from an island, the Philippines.”

“It’s fantastic to have him here. There was so much information in his presentation, it’s hard to name what was best about it,” said writing student Ian Nafziger.

Cruz recently finished his first screenplay, Castro’s Daughter, and is currently working on a ’50s style Cuban musical.

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