Compelled by her anti-war work with returning Vietnam veterans and her passion for social justice, Elena Schwolsky traveled to the then-forbidden island of Cuba in 1972 with a brigade of youthful volunteers to help build houses for workers and support the still young Cuban Revolution; a decision that would shape her life and ultimately lead her back to Cuba twenty years later—as she shares in her beautifully narrated new book Waking in Havana: A Memoir of AIDS and Healing in Cuba.
Elena returns to the island––a pediatric AIDS nurse weary from the constant loss and sorrow surrounding her work, a grieving widow dealing with the death of her husband—himself a victim of the disease, and a lifelong activist hoping to reconnect with the resilient spirit she felt as a young ‘brigadista’. The author takes readers along through her humorous attempts to navigate this very different culture—into Havana’s controversial AIDS sanatorium and the lives of the generous, opinionated and passionate Cubans who become her family and help her to heal.
Elena Schwolsky, RN, MPH, is a nurse, community health educator, activist, and writer who spent a decade as a pediatric nurse at the height of the AIDS epidemic. She has trained AIDS educators in Cuba and Tanzania and currently teaches community health workers in diverse urban neighborhoods in New York City. Her essays have appeared in The American Journal of Nursing and The Veteran, and her work has been included in the anthologies Storied Dishes: What Our Family Recipes Tell Us About Who We Are and Where We’ve Been and Reflections on Nursing: 80 inspiring stories on the art and science of nursing. A chapter she co-wrote appears in the textbook Children, Families and AIDS: Psychosocial and Therapeutic Issues. Schwolsky is the recipient of a writing award from the Barbara Deming Money for Women Fund and is proud to be recognized as the madrina (godmother) of Proyecto Memorias, the Cuban AIDS Quilt project.