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The Center of the World: Writing from Cabo Verde

May 2020

Image: Hélder Paz Monteiro, (in)ver(tido) reflexo, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Image: Hélder Paz Monteiro(in)ver(tido) reflexo, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Our May 2020 issue is our very first dedicated to the literature of Cabo Verde, an archipelago nation off West Africa whose culture embodies Portuguese and African influences. The nine texts here, including our first piece from Cabo Verdean Creole, explore Cabo Verde’s simultaneous occupation of the center and the margins of the world. Manuel Brito-Semedo traces the contours of Cabo Verdean literary culture; in poetry and prose, respectively, Camões Prize winners Arménio Vieira and Germano Almeida chronicle the discovery of deeper understandings of country and self, in Lisbon and on the island of Boa Vista; Fátima Bettencourt dreams the end of the world; Dina Salústio describes one town’s desire to make a name for itself; Luís Romano spins a riches-to-rags tale; Filinto Elísio gives a nod to jazz legend Horace Silver’s Cabo Verdean origins and ponders the line between existing and not. With translations by Anna Kushner, David Shook, Eric M. B. Becker, Jeff Hessney, Jethro Soutar, and Nina Perrotta.

Islands Running across the Globe
By Manuel Brito-Semedo
Right from the start, Cabo Verdean concepts of identity and individuality were defined by this mixed reality: the African and the European, in all their diverse and contrasting characteristics.
Translated from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar
On Beginnings
By Filinto Elísio
Inert stone, atomic, / nuclear before life.
Translated from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar
A Form of African Identity
By Germano Almeida
It was only very gradually that we came to understand that the Europeans, out of malice or simple ignorance, had instilled in us our reluctance to accept our condition as Africans.
Translated from Portuguese by Stephen Henighan
Cabo Verde Is the Center of the World
By Germano Almeida
In those days the island of Boa Vista was the whole world.
Translated from Portuguese by Stephen Henighan
By Dina Salústio
Are all of us accidents wandering through other people’s lives?
Translated from Portuguese by Nina Perrotta
Lisbon – 1971
By Arménio Vieira
In point of fact, Lisbon was not waiting there [to greet us.
Translated from Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker & Shook
Caviar, Champagne, and Fantasy
By Arménio Vieira
The Esplanada, thick with the scent of fragrant [DDT
Translated from Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker & Shook
Song for My Father
By Filinto Elísio
The music played / on Apollo 11, it turned out, was “Georgia / On My Mind,” sung by Ray Charles.
Translated from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar
The Last Judgment
By Fátima Bettencourt
I was overcome by the unshakeable conviction that it was the end of the world.
Translated from Portuguese by Anna Kushner
Old Isidoro
By Luís Romano
As soon as he came around the bend at Passo Preto, he raised his pistol and fired into the air.
Translated from Cabo Verdean (Santo Antão Dialect) by Jeff Hessney