Lester Tomé, 2020–21 | National Humanities Center

Lester Tomé (NHC Fellow, 2020–21)

Project Title

The Avant-garde Imagination: Transatlantic Visions of Ballet

Smith College

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Lester Tomé

Fellowship Work Summary, 2020–21

Lester Tomé worked on a book manuscript on the ballet libretti of Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier. Titled The Avant-Garde Imagination: Transatlantic Visions of Ballet, this project examines Carpentier’s work as an example of experiments in modernist and avant-garde ballet in the Americas in the early twentieth century. During his five-month fellowship, Tomé drafted the introductory chapter, which theorizes the place of unfinished artworks in studies of artistic production, the categories of imagination and imaginaries as objects of historical analysis, and the relationship between avant-garde art, imagination, unfinishedness, and utopia. He also examined a vast collection of modernist art and literary magazines from Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, France, Spain, and the U.S. This archival work is the foundation for another chapter, currently under preparation, on how information about avant-garde ballet circulated in the 1910s–30s across the Atlantic and within the Americas. Additionally, Tomé authored the essay “Biography of a Runaway Slave (1966): A Testimonial Novel in Its Historical Context,” commissioned from Opera Philadelphia as part of the educational materials for the company’s forthcoming production of Hanz Werner Henze’s opera El Cimarrón.