Victoria author Shirley Langer shows off her novel Anita's Revolution, about Cuba's national-wide literacy campaign of 1961, which was recently translated into Spanish.

Victoria author Shirley Langer shows off her novel Anita's Revolution, about Cuba's national-wide literacy campaign of 1961, which was recently translated into Spanish.

Local author’s novel honoured by Cuba

Victoria author Shirley Langer's book Anita's Revolution, about Cuba's national literacy campaign, is being translated into Spanish.

When Shirley Langer moved to Cuba in the ’60s, she never realized she would be a part of what is arguably the biggest social movement in the country’s history.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro and the Revolutionary government took over Cuba, roughly one quarter of the population — more than one million people — were totally illiterate.

Castro said if Cuba was to move forward, economically and socially, he had to end illiteracy in the country — a goal he hoped to achieve by the end of 1961.

Shortly after, Castro began a nation-wide literacy campaign in which 400,000 volunteers, including 100,000 teenagers (ranging from eight to 15 years old) left their homes and travelled to the countryside to teach people to read and write.

The volunteers, also known as brigadistas, would live with learners, often in huts with mud floors, and no electricity or toilets.

“It was an extraordinary event in Cuba’s history,” said Langer, a Victoria resident. “I think of the fact that when you read about history, you read about adults. Adolescents aren’t credited with being part of grand change and yet, these 100,000 teenagers mostly, were in fact right at the heart of the whole movement. The result was that it unified the country.”

But the program was interrupted by the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Despite being cut short, almost a million people learned to read and write through the program. Literacy in the country decreased from 25 per cent to 3.9 per cent in seven months and on Dec. 22, 1961, Cuba declared itself an illiteracy free country.

Langer moved to Cuba with her husband at the tail-end of the campaign in 1964, after hearing about the campaign from friends who lived in the country.

Immediately following the campaign, the government established follow-up education programs around the island and Langer was able to see the long-term effect literacy had on the country.

She would see people studying to get their high school education in cafeterias, factories, in public parks and at their work places.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s when Langer noticed a lack of literature about the success of the literacy campaign and decided to write a novel about it.

“It’s the most successful literacy campaign ever conducted in the world. I thought there’s no novels, nothing for the ordinary reader,” Langer said, adding she had written a collection of short stories, but never a full novel.  “So I thought I’d write it.”

Since returning to Victoria in 1969, she has travelled back to Cuba nearly two dozen times, interviewing a number of brigadistas. Her book, Anita’s Revolution, was published in 2012.

Now, her book has been translated into Spanish as part of the 55th anniversary of the literacy campaign last month.

“It’s a great honour that the book of a Canadian has been chosen to represent something that was probably a moment in history that changed everything,” Langer said, adding Cubans continue to hunger for novels to read.

To order a copy of the book, email shirleylanger@gmail.com.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy Everett Bumstead.
The tree planting life on Vancouver Island features in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

Scaredy Cats television series has turned Empress Avenue in Fernwood into a Halloween themed neighbourhood. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Trick or treat! Halloween comes to Fernwood in January

New television series Scaredy Cats filming in Victoria

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

James Summer, the City of Victoria’s new youth poet laureate. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Slam poetry expert introduced as Victoria’s new youth poet laureate

Vic High alum James Summer will serve in the role for 2021

There are many options for enjoying a meal out locally during Dine Around and Stay in Town, on now through Feb. 7. (10 Acres Commons)
Dine Around Stay in Town Victoria carries added importance during pandemic

Special menu items for eat in or takeout/delivery, staycation deals available through Feb. 7

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Ty Wesley, Nicole Darlington and Cameron Macaulay (from left) performed in the Beholder Entertainment production <em>Gender Sucks!</em> in the 2020 Nanaimo Fringe Festival. (Video still courtesy Sam Wharram)
Nanaimo Fringe Festival artist lottery open to local and B.C. playwrights

Organizers hope to stage plays in-person at indoor and outdoor venues this summer

Canadian singer-songwriter-actor Joëlle Rabu will join her son, Nico Rhoades, for a livestream performance courtesy the Tidemark Theatre Jan. 29. Photo submitted
Mother/son powerhouses Joelle Rabu and Nico Rhodes join forces for Island livestream

Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre hosts online music revue

Dr. John Hooper is the new conductor of Island Voices. Photo supplied
Island Voices welcomes new conductor

Dr. John Hooper to lead mid-Island based choir

Jorie Benjamin does a modern dance performance to ‘La Vie en rose’ by Édith Piaf, Louis Gugliemi and Marguerite Monnot, choreographed by Elise Sampson during the Cowichan Music Festival’s Highlights Concert at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on March 1, 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Cowichan Music Festival cancelled for 2021

The festival had already been limited to solo performances only for 2021

<em>Chinook Salmon: Breaking Through</em> by B.C.’s Mark Hobson was selected among 13 entries as the winner of the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s Salmon Stamp Competition.
Stained-glass lighting casts a win to B.C. salmon artist

Painting of chinook is Mark Hobson’s third win in annual contest

Most Read