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January 21, 2016

Obituary: Julio Matas

matasJulio Matas, professor emeritus in Hispanic languages and literatures, died Dec. 30, 2015, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Matas was born in 1931 in Havana, Cuba. He studied law and drama at the University of Havana, where in 1948 he showed his deep interest in theatre by enrolling in the Seminar of Dramatic Art and later becoming active as a director and actor in the University Theater. He graduated from the seminar in 1954 and from the School of Law in 1955. From 1957 to 1960 he studied Hispanic literature at Harvard University. Upon his return to Cuba, he was appointed director of the National Theater.

In 1965 Matas emigrated permanently to the United States, accepting a position as lecturer at Pitt in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, which had been separated from the Department of Romance Languages in 1964. Upon completing his doctorate at Harvard in 1968, Matas was promoted to assistant professor at Pitt in 1969. He was awarded tenure as an associate professor in 1971, and promoted to full professor in 1980. Matas was a popular, versatile and dedicated teacher, passionate in his love of literature.

He retired from the University in 1989.

Already an important figure in the literary, theatrical and cinematographic life of pre-Castro Cuba, where he was one of the younger generation attempting to bring more avant-garde influences to bear on Cuban culture, Matas realized that the ideological limitations imposed by the Castro regime did not support the artistic freedom he sought. As with many intellectuals facing authoritarian rule in Spain, the Caribbean and Latin America in the 20th century, he chose exile.

Although Matas primarily was a dramatist, producing a number of successful dramas both in Cuba and later in retirement in Florida, he also was the author of a novel and numerous short stories, as well as a poet and literary critic.

His long-time friend, the Cuban journalist Olga Connor, summed up her view of him in this way: “Julio was not only a great actor, writer, dramatist, poet, novelist, critic … but also a tender man, a sweet, affectionate, loyal and marvelous friend who knew how to love freedom and leave his country when he was triumphing in it.  His life has meant prestige and pride for Cuba and for all of us who participate in his glorious creativity.”

The Cuban critic José Abreu Felippe added that Matas’ death “… was a great loss for Cuban culture. Another great [Cuban] who died without seeing his country free.”

—Keith McDuffie

(Editor’s note: Keith McDuffie chaired the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures 1975-92, retiring as professor emeritus in 1996.)

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