Havana has long had a penchant for quickening one’s literary sensibilities. Some of the most original voices in the English language—including Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and Hunter S. Thompson—have found themselves drawn to Cuba for stories and adventures.
Using this remarkable city as a provocative setting and a well of inspiration, this unique people-to-people cultural exchange, led by best-selling author and historian Hampton Sides, explores present-day Cuba through meaningful interactions with Cubans from all walks of life.
Narrative non-fiction is experiencing something of a “golden age” these days, and never has it been more important for writers of factual stories to understand how to keep their readers turning pages. This educational program examines the myriad ways in which a piece of non-fiction writing can be magnetized, energized, and infused with the literary equivalent of oxygen. By employing techniques more commonly associated with novels and screenplays—such as suspense and foreshadowing, character development, shifting POV, and the use of dialogue, scenes, and multiple intersecting storylines—we consider how the all-important quality of “narrative drive” can be achieved.
Our home for the week is Converto Santa Brigida, a beautifully restored convent in the heart of Old Havana, one block from Plaza Vieja. Featuring simple but comfortable accommodations with private bathrooms, light-filled group meeting spaces, a breakfast room, a library, a chapel, and Italian nuns as our lovely hosts, the convent is a serene base to return to after our daily adventures in bustling Havana and the nearby countryside.
Each day we venture out into the streets of Havana and into the nearby countryside to engage with the Cuban people, soak up their peculiar energy, and imbibe in their rich culture—these outings become source material for our writing . Our readings, too, are partly themed around the history and literature of Cuba, and wherever possible our discussions are tailored to address some of the on-the-ground realities of this beautiful and enigmatic city. After highlighting representative passages from non-fiction classics as well as selections from Hampton’s own work, participants have an opportunity to try their hand at some of the techniques we discuss.
By week’s end, participants have gained fresh insights and developed a keener appreciation not only for the people of Havana, but for the storytelling elements that can propel and animate any piece of factual writing—helping it to rise to the level of art.
True to the requirements of a people-to-people
General License with U.S. Treasury Department, our programs in Cuba focus
on educational exchanges with the Cuban people and learning about their fascinating