Jose Yglesias Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.

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...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

José Yglesias was born in Tampa, Florida, on November 29, 1919, and was reared in a Spanish-speaking home in the Cuban sector of Tampa known as Ybor City. His mixed Hispanic heritage was to play a major role in his development as a writer. Perhaps it was the fact that his father left home to return to his beloved Galicia when Yglesias was only a child or perhaps it was the schizophrenic experience of growing up in America as a Cuban American that planted the first seeds of interest in his Hispanic heritage. Whatever the cause, Yglesias’s enthusiastic quest to learn all he could about his background is evident throughout his fiction. His novels generally center on the fragmented psyche of a Latino protagonist who is searching for his spiritual center.

Two days after he graduated from high school in Tampa, Yglesias left for New York City, where he experienced the freedom that accompanies the abandonment of one’s hometown environment; on the other hand, mistaken frequently for a Puerto Rican, he became even more conscious of his identity as a Hispanic American. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve for three years, where he received the Naval Merit Citation. After the war, he decided to go back to school. He attended Black Mountain College for one year (1946-1947) before returning to New York City, where he met the woman whom he would marry, Helen Bassine, a future writer as well. They were married on August 19, 1950.

Before devoting himself full time to writing, Yglesias worked in New York City for a pharmaceutical company, rising from an entry-level job to an executive position. His initial attempts at writing consisted almost entirely of reviews or articles for literary magazines; he also translated several books from Spanish into English. It was not until 1963, with the publication of his first novel, A Wake in Ybor City, that he began to utilize fully the rich material that his Tampa-Manhattan connection provided him.