Dr. Osdany Morales: Author and teacher

Dr.+Osdany+Morales%3A+Author+and+teacher

Neeva Patel , Staff Writer

Spanish teacher Dr. Osdany Morales has published five books, won many literary awards, earned a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese Language and Literature, an MFA in Creative Writing in Spanish, and created a Studies in Spanish curriculum in his second year at the school.

Despite his expansive literary repertoire, Morales did not study writing as an undergraduate; his Bachelor’s degree from University City José Antonio Echeverría in Havana, Cuba, his home country, is in architecture. Architecture had a creativity similar to writing, he said. “I was doing something close to fiction in the sense that I was creating a project within blank space.”

In college, Morales began to write seriously. His love for syntax came from his experiences reading as a child. “I remember reading a lot of stories by Latin American authors, but I was more so interested in the words and style of language than the plots,” Morales said. He now teaches works from some of his favorite authors, Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, and Alejo Carpentier, to his students.

Morales’ advice for people who are interested in writing is to read. “You read and read and one day, you realize that you want to do something different with your experience and you want to try to emulate the works you are reading,” he said. Morales has read all of the books                                                                                                he teaches to students in Ficciones del Sur, fictions of the south. “Fiction is an important part of my life as a writer, and as a human being.”

During his last years in undergrad, Morales started publishing fiction stories in magazines. By the time he graduated in 2006, he had written his first book —  a collection of short stories called “Minuciosas Puertas Estrechas,” “Thoroughly Stretched Doors.” The collection explored the implications of fiction and how the public perceives storytelling, he said. “It was a collection of short stories that questioned the collection of nature and what time is, who the narrator is, and who the characters are and their effects.”

The story collection won The David Award in 2006. After he won another award from the art and culture institution Casa de Teatro, the institution invited him to the Dominican Republic to sit on the jury for the next award season; he lived there for two years.

The next step in Morales’ journey took him to the US. While researching Creative Writing in Spanish MFA’s, he chose NYU’s program because of its history of instruction by well-known authors. “The teachers at the NYU program were great novelists like Sergio Chejfec, Diamela Eltit, Sylvia Molloy, and Antonio Muñoz Molina, and poets like Mariela Dreyfus and Lila Zemborain,” Morales said. “It was an exceptional opportunity to read and write among them and to be exposed to their suggestions.”

At NYU, Morales wrote his second book, “Papyrus,” or “The Last Librarian” in English. “The novel accumulates small elements from stories to focus on the figure of the writer and reader,” Morales said. “It redefines those spaces for the 21st century specifically, a time where we have so much information around us.”

“Papyrus” won the Alejo Carpentier Award in 2012, one of the most important literary awards for Cuban authors. “This win was big — I grew up reading [Alejo] Carpentier’s stories, so I was happy to connect one of my books to an author I knew from my youth.”

A year later, Morales published his third book, “Antes de Los Aviones” or “Before the Planes,” a fictionalization of Morales’ time outside of his home country, Cuba. Two years after that, he experimented with a foreign literary genre: poetry. “El Pasado es un Pueblo Solitario,” “The Past is a Lonesome Town,” is a book of poems about Morales’ experiences immigrating to the US, he said.

When Morales first moved to the US, he had to make many profiles online for his new life. “I had to create profiles and answer questions that had to be protected by security questions that connected to my past — things only I would know,” he said. As an immigrant, Morales often found himself in front of questions without an answer. Inspired by those interrogations, Morales’ book takes the structure of a set of security questions that he answers with poems.

Morales’ fifth and favorite book in his collection, published in 2018, continues his meditations on fiction. He chose “Zozobra” for the title because it has two meanings: an emotional state connected to sadness or a shipwreck. “This is the story of someone who is lost in the Atlantic Ocean and the police investigation behind it,” Morales said. “But it is also an excuse to talk about distance, longing, and identity.”

Alongside his creative endeavors, Morales received a Ph.D. in 2019 from NYU that connected his two spheres of knowledge — architecture, and Latin American fiction — and introduced him to teaching. In pursuit of his degree, he taught a wide range of Spanish language courses — from “Spanish for Beginners” to “Critical Approaches to Text and Cultural Analysis,” “Culture and Contexts: Latin America,” and “Iberian Atlantic.” 

“These courses taught me to create interactive student-centered environments,” he said. “[My students] would come in with a very advanced knowledge of Spanish, so I was curious as to what was happening in schools like ours, where we learn Spanish from the beginning.” It was then that Morales realized he wanted to teach at a high school and he entered the Upper Division in the fall of 2020.

When creating his course, Morales gravitated to fiction as a way to teach Spanish because it contains small worlds that people can inhabit for a few days, like “foreign dreams in a foreign language,” he said. “Fiction covers the target language and also a universal one that includes feelings, history, desires, and imagination,” he said. Morales also shares book suggestions with his students so they can further explore the texts. “The experience of reading a good book is so mysterious that I find it difficult to forget the person who recommended it to me,” he said.“I will be in some sort of debt that is partially paid by passing on the secret to other readers.” 

Morales is always enthusiastic when discussing the books the students read in class, Ella Shaham (11), a student in Ficciones del Sur, said. Shaham values having a teacher who is an author teach about short stories since he brings his own personal experiences with literature to the table, she said. Through Morales, she has been able to learn about Latin American fiction from the author’s point of view, as well as from the readers’.

Morales was one of the nicest and most supportive teachers Ariela Shuchman (12), a student in last year’s Studies in Spanish: Canciones, Cantantes, y Poetas, has ever had, she said. “In a language class, it is easy to feel very vulnerable because you never know if what you are saying makes sense to a native speaker,” she said. “But he is extremely supportive with verbal cues that make you feel heard.”

Shuchman also appreciates how Morales can share inside jokes with his class — her favorite memory from last year was teaching him millennial slang. “One time, we were all joking around before class and explaining to Señor Morales what the millennial phrase, ‘valid links’ meant,” she said. “In Spanish, it translates to ‘eslabones resistentes,’ so we started saying that a lot.” Even now, Shuchman says “eslabones resistentes” when she sees Morales in the halls.

Similarly, Shaham’s class with Morales in ninth grade began drawing dinosaurs on the board before class, she said. Now, two years later, the class still enjoys their ‘dinosaurios’ each day. 

When he came to the school in 2020, Morales’ current students were studying basic grammar. “Now, in Ficciones del Sur, these same students are reading works by established Latin American authors,” he said. “I am very happy to see that evolution.”

 

WHAT IS THE LICENSE PLATE (REGISTRATION) OF YOUR DAD’S FIRST CAR?

al final

cuando cambiamos asientos y

él recuperó el timón, el carro

no arrancaba; luego arrancó

pero no caían las VELOCIDADES

fue peleando conmigo

todo el viaje de vuelta

 

lo único práctico que sobrevive

es esa claridad

de sábado

en el parabrisas

del chevrolet BEL AIR

ancho como pantalla de cine

la luz quebrándose allí y yo con la mirada fija

en el desierto del CAMINO CUATRO

 

sus amigos nos preguntaban

por qué yo no

sabía manejar a los CATORCE AÑOS

él respondía

que a mí no me gustaba

 

el único espacio de intimidad

destinado a los hijos de padres con carro

son los centímetros oscuros bajo el chasis

 

de niño debía acompañarlo

en el garaje, veía sus piernas

saliendo por fuera como una

tabla de clavados

odiaba esas HORAS desperdiciadas

dibujaba estrategias que me harían patear el gato y

cortar a mi padre

en dos

 

BÚSCAME

UNA

TUERCA

jamás la encontraba

 

SUJÉTAME

ESTO

se me caía de la mano

 

siempre he sido quien no lo piensa dos veces

a la hora de servirse de un pie

para alcanzar un martillo

 

al final

nos pasábamos el mismo TRAPO CON GASOLINA

que arracaba la grasa cáusticamente; creo

que lo que exasperaba a mi padre

era que yo asignara

a cada una de las piezas de su mundo

otro significado