Reinaldo Arenas: 1943-1990: Cuban Writer Biography
Escaped Poverty Through Stories, Imprisoned For His Books, Wrote Furiously In Freedom
Viciously oppressed in his native Cuba for both his literary attacks on Fidel Castro's revolution and his open homosexuality, Reinaldo Arenas became a literary star by smuggling his books overseas. His extraordinary novels, flush with magical realism and sensual detail, won several prestigious awards abroad. Interview magazine wrote, "[Arenas's] writing is so exquisitely evocative and truthful and free it's as though his words have wings that could take him—artistically, sexually, and even politically—anywhere on a physical or emotional level." Yet, under the totalitarian regime of Communist Cuba, Arenas couldn't travel anywhere. For twenty years he endured harassment, surveillance, and imprisonment. Arenas finally escaped to New York in 1980.
By the time of his death in 1990, Arenas had completed nine novels, an autobiography, scores of poems, plays, and short stories, as well as dozens of political and literary essays. However, he had long-since gone out of literary favor. As he noted in his autobiography, Before Night Falls, "Ironically, while I was in jail and could not leave Cuba, my chances of being published were better because I was not allowed to speak out." As an exile in the United States, he was much less compelling. He died in relative obscurity; barely a dozen people attended his funeral. Yet, a writer often finds immortality through his words, and Arenas, whose work resonated with viscerally wrenching imagery, was no exception. Following his death Before Night Falls was published to critical acclaim and turned into a 2000 film of the same name. The film brought Arenas's work to a wider audience and helped prompt his posthumous rise to take his place as "one of the truly great writers to come out of Latin America" according to the Chicago Tribune. His work is currently widely available and is required reading in several university programs. However, in Cuba it remains banned.
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