Arenas, Reinaldo (1943–1990)

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Arenas, Reinaldo (1943–1990)

Reinaldo Arenas (b. 16 July 1943; d. 7 December 1990), Cuban novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist. Arenas was born in Perronales, a rural area in Oriente Province. His early experiences living in the country in a house full of what he terms "semisingle" women (as depicted in his novels Singing in the Well [1982] and The Palace of the Very White Skunks [1991]) shaped much of his work and character, as did the friendship and guidance of writers Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama Lima when he was a young man. Although Arenas received little formal schooling as a child, his mother taught him to read and write, and he began writing while very young. In 1959 he joined Fidel Castro's rebel forces, and after the fall of the government of Fulgencio Batista he studied agrarian management in the Oriente town of Holguín and in Havana. His increasing disenchantment and unwillingness to compromise with the new Cuban regime, along with the unabashed homosexuality evident in both his life and his work, caused him to run afoul of the Castro government. Although both his novels Singing in the Well (1982) and Hallucinations (1971) received some attention in Cuba, he was persecuted, imprisoned, and censored there, even as his work was being published and acclaimed abroad. In 1969 Hallucinations, which had been smuggled out of Cuba, was honored in France as one of the best foreign novels. In 1980 he joined the Mariel Boatlift and left for the United States, where he settled in New York City until taking his own life in the final stages of AIDS.

Arenas's work takes the lyrical, ornate, baroque style of Cuban literary tradition and applies it to the themes of rebellion, repression, and the dehumanization that the subjugation of human beings brings upon both victims and perpetrators. Using the specific situations that he lived and knew intimately, he explores the universality of slavery and oppression. Particularly successful examples are his long poem Leprosorio (1990) and his novels Arturo, la estrella más brillante (1984) and El asalto (1991). Shortly before his death he finished his autobiography, Antes que anochezca (1992; translated as Before Night Falls, 1993). His work has been translated into many languages.

See alsoHomosexuality and Bisexuality in Literature .


Perla Rozencraig, Reinaldo Arenas: Narrativa de transgresión (1986).

Roberto Valero, El desamparado humor de Reinaldo Arenas (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Machover, Jacobo. La memoria frente al poder: Escritores cubanos del exilio: Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Severo Sarduy, Reinaldo Arenas. Valencia: Universidad de Valencia, 2001.

Soto, Francisco. Reinaldo Arenas. London: Prentice Hall, 1998.

                                        Roberto Valero