Authors: Jose Yglesias

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Identity: Cuban American

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Wake in Ybor City, 1963

An Orderly Life, 1968

The Truth About Them, 1971

Double, Double, 1974

The Kill Price, 1976

Home Again, 1987

Tristan and the Hispanics, 1989

Break-In, 1996

The Old Gents, 1996

Short Fiction:

The Guns in the Closet, 1996

Drama:

Chattahoochee, pr. 1989

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, pr. 1989

You Don’t Remember?, pr. 1989

New York 1937, pr. 1990

Nonfiction:

The Goodbye Land, 1967

In the Fist of the Revolution: Life in a Cuban Country Town, 1968

Down There, 1970

The Franco Years, 1977

Translations:

Island of Women, 1962 (of Juan Goytisolo)

Sands of Torremolinos, 1962 (of Goytisolo)

Villa Milo, 1962 (of Xavier Domingo)

The Party’s Over, 1966 (of Goytisolo)

Biography

Jose Yglesias (eeg-LAY-see-uhs) is best known for being a prolific writer whose works are often about individual lives and hardship in Cuba and in Latin American countries affected by revolutions. Of Cuban and Spanish descent, Yglesias was born to Jose and Georgia Milian Yglesias in Tampa, Florida. He worked as a stock clerk and a dishwasher when he moved to New York City at age seventeen. Yglesias then served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 during World War II; he received a naval citation of merit. After the war, he attended Black Mountain College in 1946. He married Helen Basine, a novelist, on August 19, 1950. Yglesias held numerous jobs during his lifetime, from assembly line worker to film critic, from assistant to a vice president of a pharmaceutical company to Regents Lecturer at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1973.{$I[A]Yglesias, Jose}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Yglesias, Jose}{$I[geo]LATINO;Yglesias, Jose}{$I[tim]1919;Yglesias, Jose}

Yglesias’s birthplace greatly influenced his literary concern and career. He was born in the section of Tampa called Ybor City. Until Ybor City, a cigar-making town, was founded by V. Martinez Ybor in 1885, there were not many Latinos in Tampa. As Ybor City and its economy grew, Cubans and other Latinos arrived and brought their own cultural activities and vibrant traditions. These aspects of life in Ybor City served as inspiration and material for Yglesias’s plays and books. According to him, these events must be documented so that the history and cultural richness of that part of America will not be forgotten.

Descriptions of Ybor City and its history can be found in the pages of Yglesias’s first novel, A Wake in Ybor City. The novel is a colorful and interesting depiction of Cuban immigrants in the Latin section of Tampa on the eve of the Cuban Revolution in 1958. The story deals with family dynamics, class envy, sexual intrigues, and cultural assimilation, along with machismo and matriarchal powers in conflict. This novel started his prolific writing career, in which he would move back and forth between fiction and nonfiction.

Being of Cuban and Spanish ancestry also greatly influenced Yglesias’s second book, The Goodbye Land. The laborious energy required–as well as personal desire–to travel to the mountainside village of Galacia, Spain, in 1964 in order to trace his father’s birth and death there proved to be worthwhile; the book was a great success and was praised by many critics for its authenticity as a travel narrative.

Many of Yglesias’s books since The Goodbye Land deal with personal statements and individuality amid the revolutionary experience. His nonfiction work In the Fist of the Revolution addresses individual lives and hopes amid political and social problems in the town of Miyari, Cuba. The Franco Years depicts the living conditions of the author’s Spanish acquaintances under the Fascist regime of dictator Francisco Franco, who died in Spain in 1976. (Yglesias was in Spain at the time.) Again, many critics agreed that these two books demonstrate authentic social reporting because the author, while in Cuba and Spain interviewing people, experienced their hardships and turmoil. That authenticity reflects the critical talent and genuine objectivity of Yglesias, who went against the mainstream literary fashion of political and social analysis and moralizing.

Yglesias’s talent and honesty in his literary desire to present emotions, aspirations, and disappointments unique to Latino émigrés in the United States led to success and critical acclaim in his novels as well as nonfiction works. His persistent interest in individual lives, the immigrant experience, and cultural assimilation can be seen in novels such as The Kill Price, Home Again, and Tristan and the Hispanics.

Mainly known for writing novels, nonfiction, and translation, Yglesias was also a talented dramatist. He wrote only four plays, three of which–Chattahoochee, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and You Don’t Remember?–form a trilogy set in Ybor City in 1912, 1920, and 1989, respectively. The fourth play, New York 1937, is an autobiographical comedy involving cigar making and the Great Depression, set in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. In his plays, Yglesias’s creative drive and imagination brings his characters to life upon the stage.

In addition to his efforts as novelist and dramatist, Yglesias contributed major articles for prestigious literary magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals. He was the patriarch of a literary family, which included his former wife and his son Rafael, also a novelist and screenwriter. Yglesias died of cancer in 1995. His body of work places him as one of the pioneers of modern American and Latino literature.

BibliographyBaskin, Leonard. “Jose Yglesias.” Tampa Review 13 (1996). This article examines Yglesias, the literary influence of his work, and his overall literary life.Ivory, Ann, ed. “Jose Yglesias.” In Contemporary Authors. Vols. 41-44, first revision series. Detroit: Gale Research, 1974. Lists a chronology on Yglesias and his Cuban American background. Mentions Yglesias’ interest in recording the lives of Hispanic people and his travels to Spain, the first of which resulted in The Goodbye Land, described here as a work of “warmth and kindness.” This study includes some extracts of reviews on his work, such as Publishers Weekly’s appraisal of The Kill Price (a “splendidly written ... deeply probing story”). There are scant critical resources on Yglesias; this is the most comprehensive available, and a sympathetic one too.“Jose Yglesias.” In Contemporary Novelists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. This reference article provides an overview of Yglesias’s significant work and highlights a few of his books.Nelson, Milo G. Review of Double Double.” Library Journal 99 (May 15, 1974): 1410. Not a favorable look at Yglesias, the reviewer taking exception to what he terms “the clichés that abound by trendy conversations of political movements, such as Black Panthers.” The book, he asserts, is nevertheless “greatly uplifted by the surprise ending.” There is no mention made, unfortunately, of the sensational times to which this book is faithful.Review of The Kill Price. Booklist 72 (May 1, 1976); 1244. Calls this work, in which the main character is a terminal cancer patient, a “painful, honest, rather talky novel of discovery.” Offers insight into the author’s essential dilemma that the only healing will come through death. Applauds Yglesias for including sexual content without being sensational.
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