Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Achy Obejas  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1956 in Havana, Cuba

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Illinois Connection

Obejas moved to Chicago in 1979 and lived there for approximately 30 years.

Biographical and Professional Information

Achy Obejas is a Cuban-American writer and journalist. After leaving Cuba at the age of six, she lived in Michigan City, Indiana until she moved to Chicago in 1979. She has been a journalist with the ''Chicago Tribune'', writing about arts and culture. She has also been the Springer Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Chicago, as well as an advisor for the online prose magazine, ''Otium''. Obejas is the author of various books, including the award-winning novel ''Days of Awe'' and the best-selling ''This is What Happened in Our Other Life''. She is the editor of Akashic's critically acclaimed crime-fiction anthology ''Havana Noir'' and the translator (into Spanish) for Junot Diaz's ''The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao''. She is a founding member of the Creative Writing Faculty at the University of Chicago, a member of the Editorial Board of ''In These Times'', the editorial advisory board of the Great Books Foundation, and a blogger for Currently, she is the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College in Oakland, CA, where she also lives.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?: Stories
ISBN: 093941693X

Cleis Press. 1994

Achy Obejas writes stories about uprooted people. Some, like herself, are Latino immigrants and lesbians others are men (gay and straight), people with AIDS, addicts, people living marginally, just surviving. As omniscient narrator to her characters' lives, Obejas generously delves into her own memories of exile and alienation to tell stories about women and men who struggle for wholeness and love.

Memory Mambo: A Novel
ISBN: 1573440175

Cleis Press. 1996

Memory Mambo describes the life of Juani Casas, a 25-year-old Cuban-born American lesbian who manages her family's laundromat in Chicago while trying to cope with family, work, love, sex, and the weirdness of North American culture. Achy Obejas's writing is sharp and mordantly funny. She understands perfectly how the romance of exile—from a homeland as well as from heterosexuality—and the mundane reality of everyday life balance one another. Memory Mambo is ultimately very moving in its depiction of what it means to find a new and finally safe sense of home.

Days of Awe: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
ISBN: 0345441540

Ballantine Books. 2002

“RICH AND SONOROUS PROSE . . . There’s plenty of reason to hope for the future of a fiction that welcomes writers with such a passionate sense of the past.”
–San Jose Mercury News

On New Year’s Day, 1959, Alejandra San José was born in Havana, entering the world through the heart of revolution. Fearing the turmoil brewing in Cuba, her parents took Ale and fled to the shores of North America–ending up in Chicago amid a close community of Cuban refugees. As an adult, Ale becomes an interpreter, which takes her back to her homeland for the first time. There, she makes her way back through San José history, uncovering new fragments of truth about the relatives who struggled with their own identities so long ago. For the San Josés, ostensibly Catholics, are actually Jews. They are conversos who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. As Alejandra struggles to confront what it is to be Cuban and American, Catholic and Jewish, she translates her father’s troubling youthful experiences into the healing language of her own heart.

“Lyrically written, Days of Awe reflects the way Cuban Spanish is spoken with poetic rhythm and frankness.”

“An ambitious work . . . A deft talent whose approach to sex, religion, and ethnicity is keenly provocative.”
Miami Herald

“With intelligent, intense writing, Obejas approaches . . . the heady climes of Cuban American stalwarts Oscar Hijuelos and Cristina Garcia.”
Library Journal (starred review)

This Is What Happened in Our Other Life
ISBN: 0979420822

A Midsummer Night's Press. 2007

Poetry. Gay & Lesbian Studies. Latino/Latina Studies. At last, the first collection of poems from the Pulitzer Prize and Lambda Literary Award winning Cuban-American author Achy Obejas! THISIS WHAT HAPPENED IN OUR OTHER LIFE charts the complexities of identity as the author explores her relationship to her lovers, her roots, her past, herself. Achy Obejas is the author of the novels Days of Awe (Ballantine) and Memory Mambo (Cleis) and the short story collection We Came All The Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? (Cleis). She is also the editor and translator of HAVANA NOIR (Akashic). She received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry in 1986.

ISBN: 1933354690

Akashic Books. 2009

A true believer is faced with a choice between love for his family and the Cuban Revolution.

"Daring, tough, and deeply compassionate, Achy Obejas's Ruins is a breathtaker. Obejas writes like an angel, which is to say: gloriously . . . one of the Cuba's most important writers."
—Junot Diaz, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

"In the Havana of Ruins, scarcity can only be fought with ingenuity, and the characters work very hard at the exquisite art of getting by. The plot rests on the schemes of its weary, obsessive, dreamy hero—a character so brilliantly drawn that he can't be dismissed or forgotten. A tender and wildly accurate portrait, in a gem of a novel."
—Joan Silber, author of The Size of the World

"Obejas evinces a new, focused lyricism as she penetrates to the very heart of the Cuban paradox in a story as pared down and intense as its narrator's life."
Booklist (*starred review*)

"Compassionate and intriguing . . . Obejas plays out [the book's] conflicts in measured, simple prose, allowing her descriptions of the mundane—houses, food, dominoes—to illuminate a setting filled with heartbreak, confusion and decay . . . At her best, Obejas controls the mixture of humor and pathos that suffuse this poor community."
Los Angeles Times

"Ruins is a beautifully written novel, a moving testament to the human spirit of an unlikely hero who remains unbroken even as the world collapses around him . . . A fine literary achievement, it's Achy Obejas at her very best."
—El Paso Times

"[A] superb novel . . . Highly recommended."
—Library Journal

"[An] honest and superbly written book."
—Miami Herald

"With the deft and evocative detail of a poet's, Obejas's prose is as illuminating and honest as her struggling protagonist."
Publishers Weekly

Usnavy has always been a true believer. When the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, he was just a young man and eagerly signed on for all of its promises. But as the years have passed, the sacrifices have outweighed the glories and he's become increasingly isolated in his revolutionary zeal. His friends openly mock him, his wife dreams of owning a car totally outside their reach, and his beloved fourteen-year-old daughter haunts the coast of Havana, staring north.

In the summer of 1994, a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government allows Cubans to leave at will and on whatever will float. More than 100,000 flee—including Usnavy's best friend. Things seem to brighten when he stumbles across what may or may not be a priceless Tiffany lamp that reveals a lost family secret and fuels his long repressed feelings . . . But now Usnavy is faced with a choice between love for his family and the Revolution that has shaped his entire life.

Achy Obejas is the author of various books, including the award-winning novel Days of Awe and the best-selling poetry chapbook This Is What Happened in Our Other Life. She is the editor of Akashic's critically acclaimed crime-fiction anthology Havana Noir, and the translator (into Spanish) for Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Currently, she is the Sor Juana Writer in Residence at DePaul University in Chicago. She was born in Havana and continues to spend extended time there.


Body of Work

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)