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Reinaldo Arenas: 1943-1990: Cuban Writer - Wrote Furiously In Freedom

translated night falls viking


In New York Arenas entered a creative frenzy. He completed the Pentagon series and wrote Journey to Havana, Mona and Other Tales, and The Doorman. He also completed Before Night Falls which he had begun during his days as a fugitive hiding from the police. When it was published three years after his death it made The New York Time's top ten list. Along with other exiled Cuban writers he founded the short-lived literary magazine Mariel. When not writing, he taught Cuban poetry and lectured at universities including Cornell, Princeton, and Georgetown. In 1982 Arenas won a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1987 a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellowship. In addition he relished his new freedom, traveling throughout Europe and road tripping across the United States. He wrote of his travels in Before Night Falls: "for the first time we were able to enjoy the sense of freedom and the thrill of adventure without feeling persecuted; in short, the pleasure of being alive."

Despite his hard-won freedom, Arenas continued to suffer. His foreign publishers either refused to pay him for his books or paid him a pittance after much hassle. "None of this surprised me: I already knew that the capitalist system was also sordid and money-hungry," Arenas wrote in Before Night Falls. He continued, "In one of my first statements after leaving Cuba I had declared that 'the difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream. And I came here to scream.'" His screaming did not win him a lot of friends. The intellectual left tended to side with Castro without really knowing what the Cuban people suffered. Other exiled Cubans were busy building wealthy new lives. It was suggested that Arenas forget his past and go on. "But after twenty years of repression, how could I keep silent about those crimes?" he asked in Before Night Falls. At the same time he longed for Cuba and loathed his exiled state. He wrote, "I ceased to exist when I went into exile."

In 1987 Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS. He rapidly deteriorated and was hospitalized several times. Each time he recovered, crediting his works for his returns to health. "Writing those books kept me alive," he told the author of A Sadness as Deep as the Sea. "Especially the autobiography. I didn't want to die until I had put the final touches. It's my revenge." On December 7, 1990, not long after completing the manuscript, wholly debilitated from the disease, Arenas took an overdose of pills. In his suicide note, reprinted in Before Night Falls, he wrote, "Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible emotional depression it causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life." He went on to blame Castro for his life's sufferings and concluded with the type of defiant hope that had allowed him to create brilliant art despite the darkest oppression: "Cuba will be free. I already am."


Selected writings

Celestino antes del alba, Cuba, 1967, translated as Singing from the Well, Viking, NY, 1987.

El mundo alucinante, France, 1969, translated as Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Life and Adventures of Friar Servando Teresa de Mier, Harper, NY, 1971.

El palacio de las blanquisimas mofetas, France, 1975, translated as The Palace of the White Skunks, Viking, NY, 1990.

El Central, Spain, 1981, translated as El Central: A Cuban Sugar Mill, Avon, NY, 1984.

Otra vez el mar, 1982, translated as Farewell to the Sea, Viking, NY, 1986.

El portero, 1988, translated as The Doorman, Grove Press, NY, 1991.

El asalto, 1990, translated as The Assault, Viking, NY, 1994.

El color del verano, 1991, translated as The Color of Summer, Viking NY, 2000.

Antes que anochezca, 1992, translated as Before Night Falls: A Memoir, Viking, NY, 1993.

Mona and Other Tales, Vintage, 2001.


Sources

Books


Arenas, Reinaldo, Before Night Falls: A Memoir, Viking, NY, 1993.


Periodicals


Interview, January-April 2001, p. 46.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 23, 2001, p. E1.


On-line


"A Sadness as Deep as the Sea," Eminent Maricones, www.actupny.org/diva/CBmanrique.html (May 20, 2003).

"The Revival of Reinaldo Arenas: After Night Falls,"

Village Voice, www.villagevoice.com/issues/0049/manrique.php (May 22, 2003).

—Candace LaBalle

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