“Cuban novelist, poet, and essayist. Born in Havana, he was educated in an American school before the revolutionary years, but in his early adulthood became deeply involved in Cuban sociology, geography, and anthropology, particularly ethnology and folklore. Applying his rich literary imagination to those disciplines, he invented anew novelistic form, the testimonial novel, initiated by his Biografia de un cimarron (1966; tr The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, 1968). The work is based on the memoirs of a black Cuban centenarian, Esteban Montejo, who experienced slavery, the life of a maroon, the anticolonial struggle, and the disillusionment of continuing racism after independence from Spain in 1898. Barnet continued to develop the genre in his books Cancion de Rachel (1968), Gallego (1981), and La vida real (1986), several of which were made into films. Also an outstanding poet, his books of poetry have appeared at regular intervals since his La Piedra fina y el pavo real (1963), and include La Sagrada familia (1967), winner of the Casa de las Americas prize.”
Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.