Blame it on Miguel de Cervantes: Had he not written Don Quixote in the 16th century, then-medical student Pablo Medina would not have been seduced into reading it in the 20th, when he was supposed to study all night long for a huge organic-chemistry exam. But Cervantes did, and Medina was. After failing the exam 'miserably,' becoming a doctor was no longer an option, Medina said. So on May 14, Medina treated a captivated audience to a dynamic reading from his latest novel, Cubop City Blues, which, it so happened, was the visceral scene of a knifing on a New York City sidewalk, late at night, with the last image summoned by the dying victim the dimly lit liquor store across the street.
Now a professor in the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing at Emerson College, the South End resident describes himself as a poet who also happens to write prose. With a dozen publications to his name of poetry collections, memoirs, and translations from the Spanish. Cubop City Blues just came out in paperback and The Man Who Wrote on Water, from which Medina also read, is his latest collection of poetry.
Medina wrote Cubop City Blues against the background of jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s time in New York City in the 1940s. Influenced by Cuban bandleader Mario Bauza, Gillespie fused Cuban percussion and American Be-Bop music to create the Cubop sound referenced in the title of Medina’s novel. "And Cubop City refers to New York City, of course,” Medina told the audience. He moved there from Havana with his parents when he was twelve. The novel is not necessarily autobiographical but weaves in and out of the immigrant experience through the character of a home-schooled son of Cuban exiles who takes care of his ailing parents and describes the lives they lived since their arrival in New York City.
“I never thought of myself as Cuban until I came to New York City,” Medina said. “Until then, I was just a kid growing up.” But he felt lucky to come at that age into that city. “It shaped me,” he said, “I grew into it, and it grew into me.” Among the many questions and comments about Cuban music from the appreciative audience, was this one: Would he ever write about Boston? Medina paused, glanced backward through the big library window overlooking Tremont Street, and answered, “It’s been difficult to write about Boston, even though I live here. It’s a city of bricks, sidewalks..”
But with a great music history, too, so..stay tuned.