On Cuban Mission, US Publisher Confronts Censorship

Judith CurrA 55-year-long trade embargo still stands, but as US-Cuban relations have warmed in recent years, American businesses have moved into position to seize the day should the ban ever become history.

Earlier this month, the second US Publishing Mission to Cuba visited the annual Havana Book Fair to continue developing relationships with potential trading partners – and readers. A population the same as the state of Georgia – about 11.3 million people – Cuba boasts a 100 percent literacy rate. The island nation’s libraries and bookstores are stocked with the political works of Castro and Lenin, of course, but also the poetry of José Martí and the Havana Quartet novels of Leonardo Padura, featuring Inspector Mario Conde.

When Cuban authorities seized copies of a novel from a Cuban exile living in the United States, though, the experience highlighted for publisher Judith Curr the cultural and political gulf that separates two nations only 90 miles apart.

Havana Book Fair

Crowds stream through the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, site of the annual Havana Book Fair.
Calvin Reid Photo.

“The thing to remember in Cuba, and this is true in other places, is their political system is not the same as ours and there’s not any necessarily obvious way of seeing that or experiencing it, except this was that: There is a big difference; there’s nothing you can do; the books are not going to be made available to you,” she tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.

Judith Curr is publisher at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. that she founded in 2002. Among the many successful Atria authors are Jennifer Weiner, Thomas Keneally, Sister Souljah, the Dalai Lama, and Rachael Ray. Judith Curr was the guiding force behind publishing the international phenomenon The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, which has sold more than sixteen million copies sold.

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