Reinaldo Arenas born 16 July 1943 (d. 1990)
Reinaldo Arenas was a Cuban poet, novelist, and playwright who despite his early sympathy for the 1959 revolution, grew critical of and then rebelled against the Cuban government.
Arenas was born into poverty in the countryside, in the northern part of the Province of Oriente, Cuba, and later moved to the city of Holguín. In 1963, he moved to Havana to attend university, where he studied philosophy and literature without completing a degree. The following year, he began working at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí.
His writings and openly gay lifestyle were, by 1967, bringing him into conflict with the Communist government. He left the Biblioteca Nacional and became an editor for the Cuban Book Institute until 1968. From 1968 to 1974 he was a journalist and editor for the literary magazine La Gaceta de Cuba. In 1973, he was sent to prison after being charged and convicted of 'ideological deviation' and for publishing abroad without official consent. He escaped from prison and tried to leave Cuba by launching himself from the shore on a tyre inner tube. The attempt failed and he was re-arrested near Lenin Park and imprisoned at the notorious El Morro Castle alongside murderers and rapists. He survived by helping the inmates to write letters to wives and lovers. He was able to collect enough paper this way to continue his writing. However, his attempts to smuggle his work out of prison were discovered and he was severely punished. Threatened with death he was forced to renounce his work and was released in 1976. In 1980, as part of the Mariel Boatlift, he fled to the United States.
Despite his short life and the hardships imposed during his imprisonment, Arenas produced a significant body of work. His Pentagonia is a set of five novels that comprise a “secret history” of post revolutionary Cuba. It includes the poetical Farewell to the Sea, Palace of the White Skunks and the Rabelaisian Color of Summer. In these novels Arenas’ style ranges from a stark realist narrative to absurd satiric humor. He traces his own life story in what to him is the absurd world of Castro’s Cuba. In each of the novels Arenas himself is a major character, going by a number of pseudonyms. His autobiography, Before Night Falls was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year in 1993. In 2000 this work was made into a film, directed by Julian Schnabel, in which Arenas was played by Javier Bardem.
In 1987, Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS. After battling the illness, Arenas took an overdose of drugs and alcohol in 1990 in New York.
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