Reinaldo Arenas, a writer and poet, spent several years in prison during Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. Born and raised in the era of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas joined Castro’s revolutionary rebellion group as a teenager, but went against the regime after they began prosecuting homosexuals. He became one of the most influential figures after he openly opposed Fidel Castro’s regime and participated in numerous anti-Castro public debates during his exile in the US. An avid and untiring political activist, he fought for the rights of Cuban writers who were marginalised by the Cuban government. As his writings became increasingly critical of the government, he was not allowed to publish his works in Cuba. By the time of his death, nine of his novels, an autobiography, collection of poems, plays, short stories, and a number of political and literary essays, were published. Some of his well-known works include ‘Singing from the Well’, ‘Necesidad de liberdad’, ‘Farewell to the Sea’, ‘Pentagonia’ and his autobiography, ‘Before Night Falls’. To learn more interesting facts about his personal life, literary works, period of imprisonment and exile, scroll down and read this biography.
Childhood & Early Life
Reinaldo Arenas was born in the small town of Holguin in Oriente, Cuba. Soon after his birth, his father abandoned the family and his mother took him to a small rural farm in Oriente.
His mother taught him to write and at the age of six he attended the Rural School 91 in Perronales County. Apart from school, he attended ‘literary evening’, a weekend event where students recited poems.
His family struggled to make ends meet and at the age of 15, he joined the revolutionary rebellion group of Fidel Castro that fought against Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship.
In 1963, he moved to Havana to attend the ‘School of Planification’ and later attended the ‘Universidad de La Habana’, where he studied philosophy and literature.
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In 1964, he was invited to work at the ‘Cuban National Library’ after he participated in a story telling contest. This period inspired him to pursue a career in literature.
In 1967, he authored ‘Singing from the Well’, his first publication in the ‘Pentagonia’ series. This was the only novel from the series that was published in Cuba.
In 1966, his novel ‘The Ill-Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando’ was awarded the second prize by the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists. The novel was later banned in Cuba.
By 1967, the Communist government opposed his writings due to its homosexual content and he was questioned by the Directorate for State Security, Cuba, following which, his writings were put under strict vigil.
After he quit his job at the Cuban National Library, he was made the editor of the Cuban Book Institute - a position he held until 1968.
From 1968 to 1974, he worked as journalist and editor of ‘La Gaceta de Cuba’, a Cuban literary magazine.
In 1974, he was arrested and imprisoned on the grounds of ‘ideological deviation’ and for publishing his writings abroad without prior consent from the government of Cuba.
He attempted to flee prison but failed and was arrested and imprisoned at the ‘El Morro Castle’, a fort guarding the entrance of Havana.
He made many attempts to smuggle his works out of prison, which led to severe punishments and death threats. However, he was finally released in 1976.
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On October 31, 1980, he fled to the United States, as part of the ‘Mariel Boatlift’, a mass Cuban emigration.
After moving to the US, he settled in New York and began to write once again. In 1980, he authored ‘Old Rosa’, a story about a Cuban mother and child.
In 1982, his once banned and confiscated novel in Cuba, ‘Farewell to the Sea’, considered one of his best works by the critics, was published in the U.S.
In 1986, ‘Necesidad de liberdad’, a collection of essays and lectures was published. This was followed by the publication of ‘Graveyard of the Angels’.
In 1988, he authored ‘The Doorman’, a story about a Cuban refugee set in the US.
‘Pentagonia’, popularly called ‘five agonies’, is a collection of five novels that delineate the ‘secret history’ of post-revolutionary Cuba. Titled, ‘Singing from the Well’, ‘Farewell to the Sea’, ‘Palace of the White Skunks’, ‘Color of Summer’ and ‘The Assault’, the novel series is considered to be his magnum opus which earned him great international fame.
His autobiography ‘Before Night Falls’ was included in New York Times’ list of ten best books of 1993. In 2000, the book was made into an American drama film of the same title, premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival.
Awards & Achievements
He received award at Cirilo Villaverde National Competition held by National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists.
In 1966, he was awarded the 'first honourable mention' for his novel ‘Hallucinations’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1987, he was diagnosed with AIDS but continued writing despite ill health. He also continued his fight against the Cuban regime by speaking against the same.
Unable to bear the depression caused by ill health, he committed suicide on December 7, 1990, in Manhattan, New York.
In 1992, his autobiography titled ‘Before Night Falls’ was published. The book is a touching account of his experiences in Cuba, his imprisonment and escape to the U.S.
This Cuban homosexual writer and rebel, claimed to have had sex with over 5000 men during his teenage years.