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114 CENTRO Journal

volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

The Travelling Theater


of Manuel Ramos Otero
carmen graciela díaz

abstract

Dressed in a black kimono with his face painted white, Manuel Ramos Otero per-
formed in a high-pitched voice for a rapt crowd. Holding a Japanese umbrella in
his hands, he enacted a character named Tsuchigumo, a spider that appears in
Noh drama, Japanese mythology, and comic forms of Japanese performance dur-
ing “Fuegos fúnebres,” a flamboyant low-budget performance held on two nights
of 1980 in Old San Juan. Ramos Otero is known as the most important openly gay
Puerto Rican writer of the twentieth century to give voice to an out gay experience.
His work has been studied and championed by queer scholars and literary critics,
and today, it is regarded as pioneering, helping blaze the path of contemporary lit-
erature with its forceful voice. He was emboldened by political and artistic develop-
ments that helped him define himself personally and aesthetically: expressed with
intricate imagery and blunt action, his work featured complex characters who navi-
gated the queer underworld. At summer’s end of 1990, Ramos Otero went home to
die. He died in Puerto Rico of AIDS-related causes, at a time when nobody knew how
to deal with the disease’s ravages. Nowadays, many Puerto Rican gay writers consider
themselves Ramos Otero’s heirs. This article–shaped by primary sources like Ramos
Otero’s archive in Columbia University and 20 interviews–examines Ramos Otero’s
life in New York, what theatricality has to do with his work and his impact in Puerto
Rican sexualities through literature. [Key words: Manuel Ramos Otero, gay, Puerto
Rico, New York, literature, theater, identity, gender, sexuality, homosexuality]
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 115

Manuel Ramos Otero, 1984. Photograph by ADAL. © ADAL. Reprinted by permission.

The author (carmengra7@gmail.com) is a Puerto Rican journalist with more than a decade in
writing and publishing. Carmen Graciela holds two master’s degrees, one from the Columbia
Journalism School in Arts and Culture reporting and the other from the Universidad del
Sagrado Corazón in Cultural Studies. She wrote her first book, Huele a bomba: la paradójica
esencia del periodismo de Avance (2014), on the history of the groundbreaking Puerto Rican
magazine Avance. She has worked with Univision News Digital, El Nuevo Día and Primera
Hora writing on arts journalism, lifestyle, entertainment, education and Hispanic issues. Over
the years, she has profiled several significant artists and other cultural notables, including
Marina Abramovic, John Malkovich, Junot Díaz, Oliver Stone, Jane Goodall, and chef José
Andrés. Carmen Graciela is currently the communications and publications manager of
Grantmakers in the Arts, an association of philanthropic organizations that support the arts,
an adjunct lecturer teaching journalism at Lehman College, and a freelance writer. You can
follow her at <https://twitter.com/Carmen7Graciela/>.
116 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

Manuel Ramos Otero hadn’t been in New York long when he started directing plays.
A Puerto Rican writer known as the first to give voice to an out gay experience, he
moved to New York City from San Juan in 1968 at the age of 20, already having pub-
lished an acclaimed short story in Asomante, a Puerto Rican magazine. He continued
to write, winning awards from back home from Sin Nombre, another Puerto Rican liter-
ary magazine, and in the contests held by the longstanding cultural institution, Ateneo
Puertorriqueño. Meanwhile in New York, he worked a day-job as a research analyst1 for
a health services study and quickly established himself in the burgeoning gay scene.
From early on, his work has been studied and championed by queer scholars and
literary critics, and today, it is widely regarded as pioneering, helping blaze the path
of contemporary literature with its frank and forceful voice. Ramos Otero has been
abundantly signaled as Puerto Rico’s most important openly gay writer of the twenti-
eth century, as author Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (2009) pointed out. His papers
were acquired in 2014 by Columbia University,2 where almost 30 years before, during
the fall of 1986, he served as writer-in-residence at its Center for American Studies.
For all the attention to his writing, he has not yet been recognized for the theat-
rical work he did during four of his 20 years in New York. Though there’s not much
of it, and it did not make as lasting a contribution as did his dozens of short stories
and two volumes of poetry. But his theatrical sensibility is key to understanding his
oeuvre. Ideas and images of performance in film and theater suffuse his writing and
informed his careful creation of a public persona.
From an early age, he loved the movies. Growing up in Manatí, a small town on
the northern coast of Puerto Rico, “Chú,” as his family and friends called him, fre-
quented the Teatro Taboas, an art deco movie house less than one block away from
his home. His friend, the writer Magali García Ramis, recalled in a tribute how he
made a ritual of his movie-going: He always sat in the seventh seat of the seventh
row. No matter what was playing—the latest films from Hollywood or Mexico—he
sat transfixed, feeding an infatuation that continued to grow (Homenaje a Manuel
Ramos Otero 1991a).
During the sixties, when he studied Sociology and Political Science at the Uni-
versity of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Río Piedras, Ramos Otero organized a movie club
where he showed films. Around the time of the Oscars in 1966, he exhibited posters
of the movies nominated that year, including The Sound of Music. “I remember he put
José Ferrer’s Oscar on a sort of wood rectangle beneath a built-in light of the Centro
de Estudiantes’s ceiling, and from there he hung a fabric,” recalled critic Efraín Bar-
radas in an interview. (Díaz 2015a)
“One would enter and see that rectangular column with the Oscar and the hang-
ing fabric. It was absolutely theatrical. He gave that dramatic quality to everything.”

The Theater of the Poet


… quise volver a ser un cruel poeta/ dejar que
se escurriera la cálida leche del vacío/
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 117

para volver a ser el personaje que ya me sabía de memoria:/


el solitario/ el desamado/ el venenoso escorpión/
que liba en su pozoña/ el jugo magistral de su teatro.
“La caja china” in Invitación al polvo

From his earliest works to his last ones written shortly before he died of AIDS-
related causes in 1990—like “La caja china,” published posthumously—he often figures
narrators as actors or people associated with theater or movies. They try on different
roles. Ramos Otero himself took the stage self-consciously among friends and audienc-
es. “He was a constant performance,” said Dionisio Cañas, a Spanish writer and artist
who knew Ramos Otero, summing up the histrionic flair Otero brought to his readings
and offstage life. García Ramis concurred: she called him a “travelling theater.”
His first published gay story, “Hollywood Memorabilia”—part of his collection
Concierto de metal para un recuerdo y otras orgías de soledad, published in 1971, —is
perhaps the first Puerto Rican short story written in the first-person voice of an out
gay narrator, as the magazine Avance (1974) noted. Upon its release, the scandal this
book caused in the island, remembered poet Lilliana Ramos Collado,3 “resided in the
presence of Puerto Rican homosexual characters, an un-writable subject in Puerto
Rican literature until that point, and much less in the first person.”4
The protagonist of “Hollywood Memorabilia” is, in fact, a gay movie house pro-
jectionist who identifies himself as a writer and part-time researcher. His loneliness
creates the main mood of this piece in which he recalls his desire for and relation-
ships with three conflated men, Angel-John-Paul. But he has to face his inability to
meet anyone or to start a relationship because he has to stay too late at the movie
house. He goes home so late even the men he might pick up for a night have gone in.
Angel-John-Paul may be illusions, unfulfilled desires or only memories that interlace
with his solitude and the movies he projects in the theater. Leaving out punctuation,
Ramos Otero creates breathlessness in his hero’s voice as he contradicts himself:

I adore movies. Especially Hollywood movies of the 30s and 40s, Ruby Keeler and Busby
Berkeley and Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles and John Ford and Rita Hayworth and
Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh (I prefer Garbo and Leigh above all the others, especially the
Garbo of Ninotchka and the Leigh of Gone with the Wind) and Ernst Lubitsch and Linda
Darnell and John Huston. It’s not necessary to connect my introversion with my cinemato-
graphic obsession. (Ramos Otero 1992a, 973)

Around the time he was working on this story, Ramos Otero studied film and
theater at the School of Visual Arts and at the New School for Social Research, and he
studied stage direction at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. In 1970 he founded the
experimental Spanish-language theater group, Taller Teatral Aspasguanza, whose
members were Puerto Ricans who had arrived in New York at different moments.
(The name, ‘Aspasguanza’ is a word not found in any Spanish dictionary. It seems
118 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

Pages in Ramos Otero’s archive in Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library suggest that
he blocked the performers to move around the stage and sometimes sit down, as they recited the verses.

to be obscure slang for blathering or talking nonsense, and sort of similar to Robin’s
Santa cachucha phrase in the Batman series. Ramos Otero uses it in one of his short
stories, “Suicidio con hormigas africanas y ciruelas blancas”—“Suicide with African
Ants and White Plums.” The narrator declares: “And I would like to say aspasguan-
za! Or not say anything to then continue saying everything. To say aspasguanza and
think about all the images that follow without interruption, while the sounds live
without the rush of finishing the pronunciation.”—author’s translation)
Aspasguanza’s first production was Aspasguanza: una experiencia de liberación.
For this piece, he created a script using poetry by authors like Julia de Burgos, Clara
Lair, Víctor Fragoso, and some of his own early poems. He directed the actors Ruth
Dina Morales, Gilda Orlandi, and Heriberto Sánchez (Gelpí 2000). It doesn’t seem
that any performances of this piece—at the Spencer Memorial Church in Brooklyn,
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 119

In his notes for Aspasguanza, Ramos Otero draw in occasions actions he expected from the actors.

the Greenwich Mews Theater, the Puerto Rican Travelling Theater and Buffalo Uni-
versity—were reviewed, and no full script survived. But a few pages in Ramos Otero’s
archive suggest that he blocked the performers to move around the stage and some-
times sit down, as they recited the verses. The group stuck together for at least a
couple of productions.
By the time Ramos Otero enrolled at NYU5 in the early 1970s, the group contin-
ued its work with a staging of Los soles truncos, the influential play by Puerto Rican
writer René Marqués that presents three sisters as symbols of three main political
parties on the Island. For the staging, which featured Minerva Rodríguez, Ruth Dina
Morales, and Alana Alonso in the leading roles, Ramos Otero and set designer (and
Ramos Otero’s boyfriend) John Anthes used rundown furniture from the Spencer
Memorial Church in Brooklyn, where the play opened, and painted them black.
120 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

Around this time, Ramos Otero was working on the story “Piel mutada”—part
of his collection Concierto de metal para un recuerdo y otras orgías de soledad (1971)—
which he dedicated to Minerva Rodríguez. Ramos Otero poured his understanding of
theater into it. He blended the second and third person to tell how Ofelia, an actress,
transforms slowly into Hamlet’s Ophelia:

Before starting her most important scene, Ofelia felt nervous. She looked backstage the
theater’s darkness and the lights, stifled by the scenography. She felt possessed by an un-
known terror. (1971, 23—author’s translation)

Ramos Otero set the action in the theater, making the reader feel the onstage
and private insecurities of Ofelia, who has been mysteriously cast in a production
of Hamlet the day before its debut and has to learn her role overnight. Her growing
distress, which turns into madness, makes her confuse life and fiction, and eventu-
ally takes her toward an ambiguous death—symbolic or physical. She drowns in the
freezing waters, like Shakespeare’s Ophelia, after throwing herself from a bridge
close to the theater where she played her final act. Theater and life thus become
metaphors of each other.
In 1973, after adapting two of the plays in Osvaldo Dragún’s piece Historias para
ser contadas, Ramos Otero acted alongside members of Aspasguanza in Cadencia en
el país de las Maravillas con sus amigos de la Cochinchina o el rey príncipe sapo by
Pedro Santaliz, founder of El Nuevo Teatro Pobre de América. The play was shown
in different New York communities and parks, as Ramos Otero discussed in an in-
terview with scholar Juan Gelpí (2000). Jack Agüeros (1973a) reviewed the play in
The Village Voice, taking note of Ramos Otero’s “wonderful” interpretation of King
Coughgosh and other parts.
The sonority that distinguished his written work—because of his rich word choice
informed by his poetic sensibility and the musicality of his sentences—continued on
the stage when he acted in the piece about race relations, with parts spoofing racism,
Peloalambre no se rinde a las tribulaciones de un país gulembo (Peloalambre Doesn’t
Surrender to the Tribulations of a Feeble Nation), by Teatro de Orilla, at 214 East 2nd Street.
In a review published on July 5, 1973, in The Village Voice, Jack Agüeros (1973b)
once again praised Ramos Otero’s acting. “Manuel Ramos Otero steals the show with
his great comic sense and ability. In one scene, for example, he ties a kerchief on his
head, pinches his voice, and proceeds to make us roar with laughter as he warmly
spoofs Puerto Rican women and their down home manners,” wrote Agüeros (1973b,
63). The play was a “collaborative project” Ramos Otero once told an interviewer,6
which he co-directed and co-wrote with poets Etnairis Ribera and Ángel Luis
Méndez and actress Soledad Romero, based on Miguel Barnet’s Biografía de un
cimarrón (Biography of a Runaway Slave).
Ramos Otero made this theatrical work in the swirl of important political and artistic
developments that helped him define himself personally and aesthetically. The gay move-
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 121

ment was beginning to assert itself brazenly, fueled by the Stonewall rebellion in Green-
wich Village on June 28, 1969. As gay and trans patrons at the Stonewall bar fought back
against a police raid, they shouted slogans like, “I’m a faggot, and I’m proud of it!” “Gay
power!” “Stonewall means fight back!” “Smash gay oppression!” and “I like boys.” Cer-
tainly Ramos Otero was emboldened as a forthright gay writer by these developments.
But even before Stonewall there was an explosion of queer theater in the neigh-
borhoods near where Aspasguanza was performing also as part of the experimental
off-off-Broadway scene. Groups like the Playhouse of the Ridiculous and the Ridicu-
lous Theatrical Company staged gender-obliterating extravaganzas. Galvanizing to
the gay community, some were also critical successes, like Charles Ludlam’s Blue-
beard, staged at La MaMa on East 4th Street in March of 1970. At the same theater
in 1978, a young playwright named Harvey Fierstein played a drag queen in Interna-
tional Stud (part one of the three one-acts that eventually became Torch Song Trilogy,
which played on Broadway several years later and won the 1983 Tony Award).
The art was inseparable from the assertion of queer visibility and Ramos Otero
joined the stride of both. Comfortable in both the English-speaking gay world and the
Spanish-speaking one, through the years, he visited gay bars in Manhattan—Boots & Sad-
dle on Christopher Street in the heart of the period’s gay scene, and La Escuelita, the La-
tino gay bar with flamboyant drag shows that, according to social critic Manolo Estavillo,
outside had a sign that read “the School,” and inside had desks and chalkboards where
the locas wrote the lyrics of the children’s song “Mi escuelita” (Díaz 2018).7

That linked him to Puerto Rican spaces, seedy bars (“barras de mala muerte”) where the
male hustler (“bugarrón”) and the loca could coexist” (Díaz 2015b).

Ramos Otero’s space leaned more to a sort of margin inside the margins, as
scholar Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé pointed out in an interview: “It would be an ambigu-
ous place like the one he wrote about in the story of Sam Fat (“Página en blanco y
staccato”). You wouldn’t know if it was a gay place or not, therefore a certain dan-
ger could exist because it’s not a place that’s absolutely marked. That linked him to
Puerto Rican spaces, seedy bars (“barras de mala muerte”) where the male hustler
(“bugarrón”) and the loca could coexist” (Díaz 2015b).
Now and then, according to a couple of his friends, Ramos Otero also attended
the after-hours, raunchy sexual free-for-alls at bars of the time (Osterhout 2013). The
Anvil, The Mineshaft, The Spike, or The Trucks on the Far West Side, were among
the bars that marked that moment in New York City.
A black-and-white snapshot from the period shows him wearing short pants and
a sleeveless shirt, relaxed and sexy, hanging out on the Christopher Street pier of the
Hudson River, where the emerging gay subculture found a space of freedom, as Jonathan
Weinberg (2012) wrote in the essay “City-Condoned Anarchy.” “Stepping out of the clos-
122 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

From the personal collection of poet and Ramos Otero’s friend, Etnairis Ribera.
Reprinted by permission.
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 123

From the personal collection of poet and Ramos Otero’s


friend, Etnairis Ribera. Reprinted by permission.

et in droves, gay men suddenly felt free to sunbathe on the piers naked, cruise and have
sex in public,” Weinberg (2012, 21) noted about the transformation of New York City’s
landscape after the Stonewall riots. Though he often returned to San Juan during his two
decades in New York, Ramos Otero became a kind of native gay New Yorker, like so many
LGBT people who migrated to the city in order to live lives out of the closet.
Ramos Otero was utterly forthright. In Puerto Rico, according to his friend,
the poet Vanessa Droz, he would let anybody know he was an openly gay man (Díaz
2015c). “In Puerto Rico it was always more difficult to be homosexual than Puerto
Rican; when I came to New York it became evident to me that it was more difficult to
be Puerto Rican than homosexual. But both things have helped me to form my politi-
cal ideology,” he said (Interview with Manuel Ramos Otero 1986).8
Ramos Otero, however, didn’t like labels as a writer. In an interview published in
Avance, a journalist asked him about being a gay writer. Ramos Otero answered, “No,
I don’t believe in an exclusively homosexual literature because I only recognize a hu-
man world that we are all part of. I have written based on my human experience, but
this does not mean that I alienate the rest of the world” (1974, 53—author’s translation).
Nor did he identify with the movement of Nuyorican writers emerging around him.
In a conversation, Ramos Otero explained to Cruz-Malavé that he didn’t like what he
124 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

described as “ghetto literature,” implying by this, he seemed to suggest, “a literature that


had a separatist bent, that isolated itself from a more general dialogue from other kinds of
literature” (Díaz 2015b). However, as Cruz-Malavé explained, Ramos Otero spoke with
respect of some of the Nuyorican writers, like Miguel Piñero and Pedro Pietri.
Most of all, he wrote exclusively in Spanish. He knew that reduced his expo-
sure. But as he told Marithelma Costa, “I often thought about writing in English and
wrote various texts. But I noticed that I felt a strong love for Spanish. And Spanish
wasn’t only Spanish, but the language of memories, of my childhood, of everything I
knew before coming to this country” (1991, 64—author’s translation). When he met
the scholar Consuelo Arias when they were both students at the CUNY Graduate
Center in a course on modernist literature, he introduced himself by nationality and
vocation: “Soy Manuel Ramos Otero, escritor puertorriqueño” (“I’m Manuel Ramos
Otero, Puerto Rican writer”) (Arias 2014).
At the same time, the city gave him a needed distance for his literature to devel-
op. It bestowed freedom on his writing. El Libro Viaje (The Travel Book), the small
press he founded in 1976, was one of the results of his urgency to explore that autono-
my. Through it he published books by Etnairis Ribera, Iván Silén, and Víctor Fragoso,
another pioneering Puerto Rican gay writer who died of AIDS-related complications
before Ramos Otero. With this short-lived press he published his only novel La nov-
elabingo (1976), a highly experimental work (and the only one of his books currently
in print)—with storytelling based on the random numbers of a game of chance—that
still inspires mixed reviews.
For the release of this novel, Ramos Otero hosted “La comida bingo” (“The bingo
dinner”) in his Hudson Street apartment. As José Olmo recalled in an interview, the
writer cooked for the 25 to 30 people who partied with him that night. A santera
came to call (sing) the bingo and as Olmo put it, a young man, whose services Ramos
Otero rented, would entertain the lucky winner (Díaz 2014a).

He played the music of Cortijo, Maelo, The Supremes, and Willie Colón, among many
others; he danced with men and women and he cooked menus “a la Madame Chú”—
another of his creations—like arroz con gandules and calamari or pernil.

Ramos Otero also hosted parties that had the spirit of theatrical events. He
played the music of Cortijo, Maelo, The Supremes, and Willie Colón, among many
others; he danced with men and women and he cooked menus “a la Madame Chú”—
another of his creations— like arroz con gandules and calamari or pernil. “His house,
wherever it was, was a center of Puerto Rican, Latin American, and other cultures.
Music, food, and dance, the exquisiteness of literary creation, and ordinary gossip
had equal importance,” wrote bibliophile José Olmo about his friend, who lived in a
number of apartments over his years in the city—from 52 Sidney Place in Brooklyn,
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 125

to 129 Perry Street and 545 Hudson Street in the Village, and 300 Ft. Washington
Avenue in Washington Heights.
His parties were also ways to ease the experience of exile. “With him,” recalled
Consuelo Arias, Ramos Otero’s dear friend, “it was loving New York but hating gringos,
loving Puerto Rico but hating the homophobia. So in a way he was like a lot of us are:
he was homeless. And I think that homelessness of migration is what produces the sad-
ness but he managed to get a community together from Puerto Rico, from other places,
and we were always around him, but it was always difficult to leave” (Díaz 2014b).

Aquí y allá
After living in New York for nine years, Ramos Otero moved back to Puerto Rico in 1977
with Angelo, his Italian-American lover; almost 30 years old, he had decided it was time
to attempt to settle down on the island. He brought with him his cats, Marco Antonio,
Cleopatra and Fratateeta, and his books. But Ramos Otero couldn’t find a job, he once told
Marithelma Costa. Nor could he gain admittance to the doctoral programs in Hispanic
Studies and Comparative Literature at the Universidad de Puerto Rico. They refused him,
he maintained, because of his gay writing: “I had published books with openly homosexu-
al elements, and sexuality was still a problem” (Costa 1991, 60—author’s translation).
During the period—almost a year—in which Ramos Otero was living in Puerto
Rico, his father Jesús Ramos Robles was struck by a hit-and-run driver while he was

Some of the annotations on Ramos Otero’s notebooks—some in words, and others with drawings or
pictures he pasted on the pages—seem to point out to how he built the metaphors.
126 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

Ramos Otero’s notebooks provide an intimate glimpse into his creative process and how the writer
drove inspiration from his personal life for his writing.
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 127

One of his notebooks shows part of Ramos Otero’s process writing “El cuento de la Mujer del Mar.”
128 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

changing a tire on his car. He died on August 27, 1977. Ramos Otero was close to his
mother and sisters, but he was furious, as well as emotionally and economically ex-
hausted by the challenges and loss in San Juan, and couldn’t bear it much longer. By
the beginning of 1978, he had returned to New York.
“I had realized New York was a city where I could live without feeling persecut-
ed all the time. In Puerto Rico, I felt too much persecution because of the openness
of my sexuality” (Costa 1991, 57—author’s translation), Ramos Otero said in an inter-
view with Marithelma Costa in a scholarly journal. His life and writings, as Lawrence
La Fountain-Stokes (2009) explained, illustrate some of the common experiences of
first-generation gay Puerto Rican migrants to the United States, who left their home-
land in the 1960s and 1970s pushed by the repression that surrounded them.
Ramos Otero used writing, as he reflected later, as a weapon to fight that repression
and to settle his identity. After his return to New York, his work became more explicitly
sexual and provocative. Expressed with intricate imagery and blunt action, his work fea-
tured psychologically complex characters who navigated the queer underworld.
The title story of his third book and second collection of short stories, El
cuento de la Mujer del Mar (1979—The Story of the Woman of the Sea), is one of
his most passionate and sensual. Love and death mirror each other in the work
he called a novella. He thought it was one of his best works yet. In it Ramos Otero
tells the story of two male lovers in New York, the cuentero (the storyteller) and
Angelo, in the midst of their dying relationship. In a reference to Scheherazade,
the cuentero tries to retain his Italian-American lover by telling him the Story of
the Woman of the Sea. Both men, while walking by the Hudson River, the aban-
doned piers, and the West Village’s Christopher Street, tell the stories of the char-
acters Palmira Parés, a poet from Manatí, and Vicenza Vitale, an Italian who mi-
grated to the United States. Both women roam and belong to the sea; both mirror
the exile experience of their narrators.
Palmira Parés is desperate for love, and in her frequent long walks gets to know
Filimelé, her lover. Palmira, according to the cuentero, scandalized the order of her
time: she was a poet unknown to many, whose works were read only by poets, writers
and literary critics who dared to review her poetry. The story mixes the first person
and third person to give voice to the cuentero. Mirrors appear frequently in both lay-
ers of the story, as elements in the plots and as metaphors. The internal story and the
framing story are so entwined that at one point the narrator calls Palmira “he” and
declares “him” to be the most ignored Puerto Rican poet of his time.
By the end of the story, as Filimelé leaves Palmira, Angelo abandons the
cuentero.9 Life and the stories the lovers tell each other intertwine. The end feels like
a maze in which love and death are symptoms of the other.
In this story the different characters, intimately connected to their backdrops
either in Manatí or in New York, suggest Ramos Otero’s directorial understanding
of the stage. As Manuel Ramos Otero wrote stories like this one or “Piel Mutada,” he
demonstrated he was a poet informed by his directorial sensibility and his knowledge
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 129

of scene and staging. Ramos Otero, the poet and storyteller, wrote cinematographi-
cally and theatrically, bestowing his writings with the richness of space dynamics
and scene construction. Some of the annotations on his notebook—some in words,
and others with drawings or pictures he pasted on the pages—seem to point out to
how he built the metaphors.

Ramos Otero, the poet and storyteller, wrote cinematographically and theatrically,
bestowing his writings with the richness of space dynamics and scene construction.

His characters interact with their detailed locations, and seem to pop out against
these significant backdrops. The scenery seems to respond to their psychological ex-
periences. In one part of the story, the cuentero notes the thick fog that crosses the
black waters of the Hudson River and a New York in ruins; a comment that reverber-
ates nostalgia of an ending the cuentero feels near.
“El cuento de la Mujer del Mar,” furthermore, exemplifies how Ramos Otero
dealt with the fictionalized presentation of his self. The mirrors accentuate the dou-
bling he employs—the cuentero and Palmira Parés reflect each other; Palmira Parés
also mirrors and distorts the Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. Mirrors, after all, can
be deceiving, and Ramos Otero played in this text, and others, with this idea.
Ramos Otero’s short stories found both success and rejection. Even as some es-
tablishment figures condemned them as “scandalous,” they were acclaimed by pro-
gressive scholars and some leaders in the literary community who appreciated his
complex characters, his dense and allusive language, and his intricate plots. But in
the late 1970s, he began to focus more on poetry. In part, that was in keeping with the
style of his prose and with his sense of himself as a writer. “Don’t ask me to define for
you what a story is. I only know it must tell something. I also know that it is insepa-
rable from poetry and they seduce one another in my stories,” he wrote in a letter to
the students of his friend, professor Juan Antonio Torres.10
But there was another key reason, too. He wanted to perform his work and the
stories were too long to present at readings. His theatrical impulse required that he
have texts he could declaim and direct in solo presentations.
On two August nights in San Juan in 1980, he made his most notorious poetic
performance. Dressed in a black kimono with his face painted white, Ramos Otero
performed in a high-pitched voice for a rapt crowd. He held a Japanese umbrella in
his hands and a wicker trunk lay in front of his feet. He was surrounded by paper ban-
ners with drawings that depicted the Stations of the Cross, painted by his partner at
the time, artist Ángel Rodríguez Díaz. The two men had grabbed all the props for the
performance from the home of Ramos Otero’s friend, the poet Vanessa Droz.
In “Esta es la segunda parte del Ulysses” (This is the Second Part of Ulysses),
one of the poems he declaimed in this performance, he doesn’t make clear who is
130 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

doing the speaking. Perhaps it’s Ulysses who spent 20 years away from Ithaca—
almost the same as Ramos Otero’s period in New York—but it’s clear who’s the central
figure: a character named Tsuchigumo, a monstrous spider who shows up in Noh
drama, in Japanese mythology, and in comic forms of Japanese performance. Ramos
Otero had made notes about this figure in a journal he kept and sketched him there,
wearing a kimono. This is the character Ramos Otero enacted during the event he
called “Fuegos fúnebres” (Funeral Fires), the flamboyant low-budget presentation
held at Casa Blanca, a historical museum in Old San Juan. Elsewhere in “Esta es la
segunda parte del Ulysses,” Tsuchigumo “died once again”—death, like love, being a
preoccupation in Ramos Otero’s work.
The reading came to be regarded as Ramos Otero’s most iconic because it com-
bined the author’s penchant for wide literary references, erotic and morbid themes,
and over-the-top theatricality. Those poems were later published as part of El libro de
la muerte (1985—The Book of Death), his first volume of poems, which he had started
writing three years before, while living in the Boulevard del Valle in Old San Juan.
From his window there, he looked out onto the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis
Cemetery and the Atlantic Ocean. Published in 1985, El libro de la muerte, one of his
most celebrated works, showcased the mark his theatrical background left in him.
The theater that lay in his poems, as he told Marithelma Costa, led him to make
full performances of his readings with wardrobe, lights, and props, like “Fuegos
fúnebres.” Theater, as the poet Vanessa Droz explained, made him aware of the
power of his corporeality. Tall, handsome, always sporting a thick moustache, Ramos
Otero made a striking presence.
New York at the dawn of the 1980s was, for those who engaged it, a caldron of
gay expression, experimental performance and flamboyant drag. Performance art, es-
pecially, combined low-cost aesthetics, emerging identity politics and genre-mixing;
the form exploded especially in East Village spaces like the Pyramid Club, Darinka,
Club Chandelier and the WOW Cafe, where Carmelita Tropicana performed, among
a spectrum of artists working in different mediums. With his elaborately staged read-
ings, Ramos Otero was a pioneer in this genre.
The flyer for De polvo enamorado (Dust in Love) invited audiences for a “read-
ing-performance” on Saturday, May 21, 1988, at The Bronx Museum of the Arts and
another undated flyer announced the “performance” of El libro de la muerte at the
Taller Latinoamericano on 19 West 21st Street.
Even his book covers were stagey. Photographers Adál Maldonado and Doel
Vázquez, who shot the cover photos for El libro de la muerte (1985) and his posthu-
mous book, Invitación al polvo (1991), respectively, remember Ramos Otero’s artis-
tic power opposite the camera. “He was an actor. He knew what to do,” said Doel
Vázquez in an interview (Díaz 2015d). For the cover of his last book, Ramos Otero
posed provocatively embracing an angel in the cemetery of Manatí, his hometown.
All the while, Ramos Otero continued to craft his public persona with as much artis-
tic flair. Physically he was impressive, said scholar Oscar Montero, “and he knew that and
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 131

he would let you know” (Díaz 2015e). Many recall him dressed in a white linen suit, like
Jay Gatsby. Consuelo Arias described him as an El Greco figure because of his imposing
stature; his dense moustache made him a sort of Puerto Rican Freddie Mercury, and was
itself another prop in the construction of Ramos Otero’s writer and private self.
With his physical formidability, Ramos Otero projected confidence in public
settings, even sometimes recklessness. Dionisio Cañas remembered that one night
while they were out bar hopping, Ramos Otero suggested they drop into an Irish
bar, McCarthy’s, on 14th Street near Seventh Avenue, where working-class men,
vagabonds, delinquents, and drug dealers went. “Manuel wanted to see that bar even
though I warned him to behave discreetly since that place didn’t have anything to do
with our gay world and it was somewhat dangerous,” he said. When a Spanish co-
caine dealer approached them, without hesitating Ramos Otero said: “Hey, you have
a nice ass. Would you sleep with me?” Cañas froze. He didn’t know if his friend had
just provoked a violent reaction. They managed to take off unscathed (Díaz 2015f ).

He had a kind of productive arrogance and believed in the importance of his work.

That same brashness had an unmistakable impact on the tone of his literature.
Ramos Otero’s style commands attention with a power that came from his high self-
esteem, his sense of physical presence in the world and his talent. He had a kind of
productive arrogance and believed in the importance of his work. He complained
that he didn’t receive the attention some of his peers enjoyed despite their being,
in his opinion, lesser writers. He read to be not only heard but also seen. “The writ-
er,” Ramos Otero said in an undated questionnaire among the papers in his archive,
“must understand that technology has robbed his public, and that people watch more
television than what they read. Therefore he must rely on any means to recapture
them without betraying his creations.”
For his poetry readings, that meant making deliberate choices about vocal de-
livery. “In my readings, I exaggerate the poetic diction and I concern myself with
projecting my voice. I know the public listens to me” (1991, 66—author’s translation),
he explained to Marithelma Costa.
Ramos Otero conceived the act of writing itself as a performance, as Oscar Mon-
tero argues, and he also understood that even if the writer is not present or if he doesn’t
rely on props for his readings, dramatic elements and vigor still lie in the writing.
In El libro de la muerte, that theatricality is felt in the variety of voices—each
poem has a different and distinct speaker. And sometimes that speaker connects him-
self both to Ramos Otero autobiographically and to a canonical dramatic character.
One of the poems features a character called Cojo de la Norzagaray, a one-legged
man. He evokes Ramos Otero’s own experience of breaking his leg when, during a
tremendous fight with Angelo, he fell from the balcony of the apartment they shared
132 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

in Old San Juan. At the same time, he alludes to Sophocles’s tragic hero Philoctetes,
the warrior shunned and abandoned because of the festering wound in his foot.
In the epitaph section of El libro de la muerte—10 poems addressed to dead writ-
ers—Ramos Otero places himself in conversation with writers from all over the world
who wrote male homoerotic works and/or were known to be gay, and who, to varying
degrees, took on various voices in their writing, using images of masks, mirrors, and
disguises. They include Federico García Lorca, José Lezama Lima, René Marqués,
Arthur Rimbaud, Tennessee Williams and Fernando Pessoa.
Ramos Otero wrote most of them in the second person, addressing each man as
a colleague, sometimes expressing anger or disappointment as well as admiration.
In “Oscar Wilde,” he writes:

kiss me Oscar the moon of my mirror/ so that the sea never reflects my wells/ and our face
drowns in memory. (1985, 47—author’s translation)

In the Epitaphs, Ramos Otero sometimes connects with the writers he addresses
through the very form of his poems. “I have never been able to separate my poetic
‘I’ from that supposed real being who is named like me,” he once told the journalist
Jorge Rodríguez (1992). That’s certainly the case in the Epitaphs, but at the same
time, he puts on the stylistic and rhetorical cloaks of the writers he is speaking to,
merging with them poetically.
In “Kavafis,” he writes:

Piensa que ningún compañero compartirá tu soledad,


pero además, camino a Borikén tu barco se cruzará
con otro barco rumbo a Itaca, y sabrás
que vuelven los guerreros, que sólo reposaron
en el puro gozo de la carne. (1985, 59)

The speaker here addresses the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (also spelled
Kavafis) and his poem, “Ithaca,” as he describes the unending cycle of men going off to
war and coming home spent and lonely, but also having found carnal pleasure. He takes
the form and narrative of Kavafis’s poem and folds it into his own. The Greek poet’s
island of Ithaca becomes the island of Puerto Rico; the long journey home in both cases
makes the destination a romance that can never—should never—be reached.
“And if upon arrival, Borikén is the same/ that forced you into exile, sacrifice
her,” Ramos Otero writes at the end of “Kavafis” (1985, 60).11
El libro de la muerte exemplifies how Ramos Otero mixed life and fiction
turning himself many times into the main characters of his texts. As his friend,
writer Olga Nolla wrote, “Like an avenue where transit flows in both directions,
he makes literature with his life and he makes of his life a literary work” (Hom-
enaje a Manuel Ramos Otero 1991b).
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 133

In one of his most theatrical stories, “Loca la de la locura,” (La Fountain-Stokes


2005)—first published in 1980 in Reintegro and reprinted in Cuentos de buena tinta
(1992b)—Ramos Otero reaches back to his own experience years earlier dressing in
drag in Puerto Rico in the mid-1960s. For a drag competition at a gay disco and at
least one collegiate party, he created the character Miss Condominio. He wore long
gloves to hide his hairy arms and he borrowed size 11 heels from his friend, the ac-
tress Ivonne Coll (Díaz 2015g).
In “Loca la de la locura” (The Queen of Madness), the heroine—a transvestite
cabaret singer in jail for murdering her lover, the hustler Nene Lindo—remembers
Miss Condominio: “unattainable, her curves embroidered with rock crystal, pyrami-
dal, glassy, ice floe that unflappably crosses her Tropic of Cancer, eternally wrapped
by a cloud of Marlboro, imprisoned by a tightly danced bolero” (1992b, 236).
It’s a winking self-reference likely lost on most readers. More important in
“Loca de la locura” is the way the protagonist’s interior monologue conjures a world
of performance and melodrama. From her cell, Loca remembers her days singing
boleros and her relationship with Nene Lindo. The dramatic undertones of boleros
are the metaphor for Loca’s story and the loneliness and spitefulness that led her to
cut Nene Lindo’s throat.
This story serves as one of the clearest examples of the extent to which Ramos
Otero employed his stage sensibility to create a convincing atmosphere at Loca’s show.
The reader hears the boleros she sang and sees the sequins shining on her dresses.
The theatricality of the story made it a perfect choice for the spectacular read-
ings Ramos Otero favored. In the late 1980s, a woman with a raspy voice presented
“Loca la de la locura” at The Gas Station, a performance space on Avenue A, acting
the part of Loca, remembers Cruz-Malavé. More than that, as the scholar Lawrence
La Fountain-Stokes (2005) has argued, the story’s transvestite-centered narration,
dramatic elements in the bolero as a musical genre, the centrality of performance
both in cabaret and in Loca’s life, and the representation of the sexual dynamic
between Loca and her lover Nene Lindo, made it ripe for full theatrical adapta-
tion. In 1997, New York’s Pregones Theater indeed adapted it into a performance
monologue, El bolero fue mi ruina (The Bolero Was My Downfall). Since then it
has been performed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico and
France. Pregones has also adapted “Vivir del cuento” from Ramos Otero’s Página
en blanco y staccato (1987) as Aloha Boricua (2009) (see LaFauntain-Stokes 2018).
Other Ramos Otero stories—“La última plena que bailó Luberza” (Luberza’s Last
Dance) and “El cuento de la Mujer del Mar”—have been adapted for the theater
by the Puerto Rican companies Marañao and Casa Cruz de la Luna, respectively,
shown in both Puerto Rico and New York.
134 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

“My Words Conjure your Silence”12


Esta mañana llegaron los resultados/
de mi muerte y todavía no abro/
el sobre (el ataúd, debiera decir).
“Insomnio” in Invitación al polvo

“I think that at thirty I’ll die of an unforeseen attack of tuberculosis (like Greta Garbo
in Camille).”
“I’m going to die at 30 run over by a streetcar (like Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge).
I’m going to die without having discovered the conclusions to the absolutes that stole
my memory from me.”
“I think I’ll die very violently at 30 (like Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai).”
“If die at 30 it will be in New York crushed and mangled by a train (like Leigh and
Garbo in Anna Karenina).”
“I continue to believe that my death will be a violent one at 30 (like Bette Davis
in The Letter).”13
Ramos Otero’s semi-autobiographical narrator in “Hollywood Memorabilia” ro-
mantically imagined dying young. Ramos Otero was not 30 when he died, but 42, and
there was nothing romantic about it. Still, like that narrator, he couldn’t help being
self-dramatizing.
As the years went by, Ramos Otero lamented the city’s decline. “The New York I
loved when I first moved started to disappear,” he mentioned in an interview. “When
the AIDS problem began around 1980 and 1981, the gay community cracked fully, and
in New York, a physical and social decadence also started to unfold” (Costa 1991).
In 1982, John Anthes, the first of his four major lovers, who collaborated with him
in his theater ventures and designed the cover of the first three books, died of AIDS.
Sometime between 1987 and 1988, at the bar on the 18th floor of the CUNY Graduate
Center, where years before they had met each other, Ramos Otero told Consuelo Arias
(2014) that he had tested positive for HIV. “He wasn’t surprised,” she recalled.
As the effects of AIDS progressed in his body, Ramos Otero fought them with his
writing. One day, when Grisel Maduro and other friends visited him, they found him
in bed. “I can’t stay in bed. I need to get up,” he told them and, fragile as he was, with
his otherwise black hair that had acquired considerable gray, he stood up and wrote
with fury on the typewriter he wanted Maduro to have after he died. Ramos Otero,
after all, found happiness when he worked, as recalled by his former lover Ángel Ro-
dríguez Díaz in an interview (Díaz 2015h).

“He knew it would be his last reading and he said: ‘Pa’l carajo (The hell with it), I’ll read
in Spanish. Whoever understands me, good! I’m tired of making concessions.’ At the
end, everyone approached him because, even though they might have not understood his
words, you would fall in love with the beauty of his voice and his performance.”
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 135

He insisted on performing. Already showing the signs of his physical deteriora-


tion from AIDS, he gave a reading in the Village, to an English-speaking audience
near NYU. He read with conviction: he would be heard. “He knew it would be his
last reading and he said: ‘Pa’l carajo (The hell with it), I’ll read in Spanish. Whoever
understands me, good! I’m tired of making concessions.’ At the end, everyone ap-
proached him because, even though they might have not understood his words, you
would fall in love with the beauty of his voice and his performance,” said his friend,
professor Grisel Maduro, in an interview (Díaz 2014c).
Ramos Otero spent the summer of 1990 at Beth Israel Medical Center, on
First Avenue and 16th St., surrounded by some of the women in his life: Consuelo
Arias, Australia Marte and Grisel Maduro. His entourage reminded him of the
beginning, with his mother and two sisters. There, in his room, he said: “I’ll read
some poems I finally finished.” Consuelo Arias recalled how, as he read “La nada
de nuestros nunca cuerpos” (The Nothingness of our Never Bodies) and “Nobleza
de sangre” (Of Noble Blood) with the force he was known for during his perfor-
mances, a nurse couldn’t stop looking at him even though he didn’t understood
Spanish. Even in his hospital bed, Ramos Otero commanded an audience. But as
weeks went by, his voice eventually lost its vigor. By the end, as his friend, the
writer Juan Antonio Ramos remembered, getting teary-eyed, Ramos Otero was
swollen and almost couldn’t speak.
At summer’s end, Ramos Otero went home to die. His friend Oscar Montero
pushed him in a wheelchair through LaGuardia Airport and then, after long si-
lences, said goodbye, turning and walking away. By then, Ramos Otero had lost a
lot of weight. He was skeletal. He even looked shorter; and his grandiloquence had
dimmed like the lights of his “travelling theater.” Ramos Otero’s other friend, Max
Soriano, traveled back to San Juan with him and delivered him to his family. A while
after Soriano returned to New York, he too was dead from AIDS.
Nobody knew how to deal with so much death, so many friends dying. Accord-
ing to the American Foundation for AIDS Research, by 1981, 159 cases of the new
disease were recorded in the United States (Thirty Years of HIV/AIDS 2011). By
1990, 160,969 cases were reported and 120,453 had died. The worlds Ramos Otero
frequented—the gay bars, the theaters—were decimated.
He was angrier at life than ever before. His work, his passion for words, were
abruptly interrupted, killed like Luberza in “La última plena que bailó Luberza,” an-
other exemplary story of cinema’s influence on his creative world.
At Centro Médico hospital, in San Juan, critic Rubén Ríos Ávila and writer Ed-
gardo Sanabria Santaliz stood by Ramos Otero’s side “to put the blanket on him, take
his hand,” Ríos Ávila recalled. Even as his bad temper and his “permanent state of
vindictiveness” had weakened, Ríos Ávila remembered that Ramos Otero didn’t want
to die. “He was pissed off at AIDS” (Díaz 2015i).
“His deterioration was so noticeable but what impressed me the most, besides
seeing him like that, was the rage he had,” said Juan Antonio Ramos, the writer on
136 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

whom Ramos Otero modeled the double of the narrator in Página en blanco y staccato
(1987—Blank Page and Staccato), in an interview (Díaz 2015j).
After being at Centro Médico for weeks, he arrived at his family’s home in Río
Piedras. There were some books, flowers, and even as he ached and as swollen as he
was, he wanted to set the scene with music. Juan Antonio Ramos recalled the painful
contrast between the sublimity of Elvira Madigan, as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21
in C major is known, and the agony his friend endured. “Only his eyes had life,” he said.
A couple of days later, on October 7, 1990, between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.,
Ramos Otero died. He had completed all the courses for his Ph.D. in Spanish
and Hispanic American Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center; he was writ-
ing the thesis “La vida urbana como metáfora: la ficción narrativa puertorrique-
ña (1971–1991)” (Urban Life as Metaphor: Puerto Rican Narrative Fiction). The
anthology of Puerto Rican writers he edited, Tales From an Urban Landscape,
was never published.
Ramos Otero asked Ríos Ávila to publish, after he died, “La Fea Otero” (The Ugly
Otero), in Puerto Rico Ilustrado, the cultural magazine of the newspaper El Mundo. It
was a chapter of a novel he wasn’t able to finish, Enfermedades incurables (Incurable
Illnesses). In addition to “La Fea Otero,” Puerto Rico Ilustrado published a three-
part series of Ramos Otero’s works that included the essay “Ficción e historia: texto
y pretexto de la autobiografía” and the poem “Nobleza de sangre,” an angry letter to
God regarding AIDS:

Thank you God for sending us AIDS/ All the tecatos and faggots of New York,/ San Fran-
cisco, Puerto Rico and Haiti will be/ eternally grateful for your composure as Emperor of
Everything and/ Nothing (…). (Puerto Rico Ilustrado, 1990—author’s translation)

“Nobleza de sangre,” found later in the posthumous volume Invitación al polvo


(1991), reverberated like his last performance. Reading it, one hears his thundering
voice. “What you most love of someone sometimes is what most frightens you. And
with Manuel, what you most loved was what scared you the most: his incredible sin-
cerity, and his desire of saying the truth. He said the truth, face to face, to AIDS,” said
Ríos Ávila in an interview (Díaz 2015i).
Nowadays, Puerto Rican gay writers consider themselves Ramos Otero’s heirs.
He never saw the influence he would end up having, many years later, on readers and
writers, regardless of their sexual orientation. The editors of the gay anthology Los
otros cuerpos: antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora
(2007), David Caleb Acevedo, Moisés Agosto Rosario, and Luis Negrón dedicated this
book to him as the voice that created the first waves of this literary current.
“It’s not that we wanted to write like him,” explained Luis Negrón. “We inherited
his courage” (Díaz 2015k). His pioneering work helped set the themes other authors
explore today in Puerto Rican letters, and nowadays he is championed by a diversity
of writers like Eduardo Lalo, Lilliana Ramos Collado, and Mayra Santos-Febres.
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 137

In poem 7 of Invitación al polvo, Ramos Otero posed a question that reverberates


today, when one considers his legacy: “Am I alive or am I dead, or is it only a wound?”
(1991, 16—author’s translation).
In an interview he said: “I write to avoid dying because writing is more infinite
than the life of the writer. And in some way, the writer wants to stay in the written
letters so he can survive when he doesn’t have the ability to continue living” (Rodrí-
guez 1992). He repeated what the cuentero of “El cuento de la Mujer del Mar” said of
Palmira Parés: that she wrote to avoid dying.
“He lived intensely and for that reason, his life had some unreality, and it turned
off suddenly, as if the reflectors had been turned off, and as if it were a movie set, and
the director moved away because the scene was done,” wrote his friend Olga Nolla
(Homenaje a Manuel Ramos Otero 1991b).
His ashes were scattered at Mar Chiquita in Manatí, a little beach surrounded by
rocks that repeatedly appears in his writings. “You return to the beach of your child-
hood/ you make a deal with the mermaids/ you visit the cave of your first orgasm/
but the swallows go silent./ Nobody says goodbye nor misses you./ You ask not be
remembered. It’s your memory./ You understand the solitude of spiders./ You disap-
pear without being stopped by saltpeter,” he wrote in poem 29 of Invitación al polvo
(1991, 39—author’s translation).
The ceremony for his farewell was an extension of his “travelling theater.” The
cuentero secured his theater in the sea, Ramos Otero has been all along the lover who
told stories to avoid his death: the Story of the Man of the Sea.

A c knowledge m ents
The piece was born in partial fulfillment of the degree of Master of Arts in Journalism of Co-
lumbia University’s Journalism School. I thank Alisa Solomon for her edits and all of those
who shared materials with me and allowed me to interview them to better understand Ramos
Otero’s world and literature.

N otes
1
“Curriculum Vitae: Manuel Ramos Otero”: Manuel Ramos Otero’ papers at Columbia Univer-
sity’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
2
“Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Archive of Puerto Rican Author Manuel Ramos
Otero,” press release from Columbia University, on March 12, 2014, available at <http://
library.columbia.edu/news/libraries/2014/2014-3-12_RBML_Acquires_Ramos_Otero_Ar-
chive.html>/.
3
Some of Lilliana Ramos Collado’s work on Manuel Ramos Otero’s literature can be read at,
<https://bodegonconteclado.wordpress.com//?s=manuel+ramos+otero&search=Ir>/.
4
Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Co-
lumbia University, discusses Lilliana Ramos Collado’s analysis during “Fierce: The Work and
Life of Manuel Ramos Otero,” an event on the occasion of Columbia University’s acquisition of
Manuel Ramos Otero’s archive.
5
Ramos Otero earned his master’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Literature in 1979.
6
“Cuestionario: narrativa puertorriqueña”: Manuel Ramos Otero’s papers at Columbia Univer-
138 centro journal • volume xxx • number ii • summer 2018

sity’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.


7
La Escuelita had different locations through its history, among them on Broadway in front of the
Lincoln Center, and off the corner of 39th Street and 8th Avenue, near Port Authority, said in an
interview Manuel Estavillo (before Manuel Guzmán). For more of this club, see Guzmán (1997).
8
In this conversation with an interviewer identified as “CACS” Ramos Otero said: “In my
own writing, although I am the only Puerto Rican writer who is totally open about homo-
sexuality, I have never overlooked the political situation of Puerto Rico as a colony. That has
allowed me to combine my problem as a homosexual in a society that is totally patriarchal
with the other problem, which is the problem of colonialism” (1986, 14). The Dispatch is the
newsletter of the Center for American Studies at Columbia University.
9
La Fountain-Stokes (2009, 41) suggests that the cuentero murders Angelo and is left all alone.
10
Letter from Manuel Ramos Otero to Juan Antonio Torres: March 13, 1983: Manuel Ramos
Otero’s papers at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
11
For more analysis, see Cruz-Malavé (2015).
12
Translation of part of Ramos Otero’s dedication of his book El libro de la muerte to John
Anthes (1945–1982).
13
Gregory Kolovakos’s translation.

R eferen c es
Acevedo, David Caleb, Moisés Agosto Rosario, and Luis Negrón, eds. 2007. Los otros cuerpos:
antología de temática gay, lésbica y queer desde Puerto Rico y su diáspora. San Juan:
Editorial Tiempo Nuevo.
Agüeros, Jack. 1973a. In a Very Latin Way. The Village Voice 19 April.
__________. 1973b. The Taste of Things Latin. The Village Voice 5 July.
Arias, Consuelo. 2014. Ramos Otero: de Times Square a Mar Chiquita. 80grados 24 October.
Avance. 1974. Diálogo franco con un escritor puertorriqueño premiado: ‘Como homosexual me
preocupa el hecho de que se nos margine’. 9 September.
Costa, Marithelma. 1991. Entrevista: Manuel Ramos Otero. Hispamérica 20(59), 59–67.
Cruz-Malavé. Arnaldo. 2015. Transnationalism and Manuel Ramos Otero’s “Traveling
Theater” of Return. e-misférica 12(1), <http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/
emisferica-121-caribbean-rasanblaj/lara/2021-e-112-dossier-cruzmalave-transna-
tionalism-and-manuel-ramos>/.
Díaz, Carmen Graciela. 2014a. Interview of José Olmo. 13 December.
__________. 2014b. Interview of Consuelo Arias. 12 December.
__________. 2014c. Interview of Grisel Maduro. 14 December.
__________. 2015a. Interview of Efraín Barradas. 30 January.
__________. 2015b. Interview of Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé. 15 January.
__________. 2015c. Interview of Vanessa Droz. 9 January.
__________. 2015d. Interview of Doel Vázquez. 31 January.
__________. 2015e. Interview of Oscar Montero. 17 January.
__________. 2015f. Interview of Dionisio Cañas. 3 February.
__________. 2015g. Interview of Ivonne Coll. 15 April.
__________. 2015h. Interview of Ángel Rodríguez Díaz. 16 January.
__________. 2015i. Interview of Rubén Ríos Ávila. 7 January.
__________. 2015j. Interview of Juan Antonio Ramos. 7 January.
The Travelling Theater of Manuel Ramos Otero • Carmen Graciela Díaz 139

__________. 2015k. Interview of Luis Negrón. 8 January.


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