Reinaldo Arenas (ah-RAY-nahs) was one of the most talented Cuban writers of his generation, the first generation educated totally within the revolution of 1959. He was turned into a pariah by Castroist homophobia and became one of the most outspoken critics of the revolution after he escaped Cuba during the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He killed himself in 1990 after suffering from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) for years.
Arenas grew up in an impoverished rural environment in eastern Cuba. As a teenager, he joined the revolution and subsequently received a scholarship to study accounting in Havana, but he soon abandoned this career for his literary ambitions. He worked in the National Library (in the Cuban Book Institute) and became an editor of the important literary magazine La Gaceta de Cuba. Arenas was removed from this job in the early 1970’s during the crackdown on Cuban intelligentsia (the “black decade”), was imprisoned for “social deviancy,” and spent time in a “rehabilitation” camp for gay people. After being released in 1976, he lived as an “unperson” in unspeakably inhumane conditions.
In 1963, Arenas won a contest in children’s literature; later, his novels Singing from the Well and Hallucinations and his short-story collection Con los ojos cerrados received first-mention awards in annual competitions in 1965, 1966, and 1968, respectively. However, only Singing from the Well was published in Cuba, after some delay, in 1967. The publication of Hallucinations in Cuba was banned because of some homoerotic scenes in the style of José Lezama Lima and because some parodic criticism of the Cuban revolution in the novel was quite obvious. The manuscripts of this novel and of the short stories had to be smuggled out; the French translation of Hallucinations, in 1968, and the Mexican edition, in 1969, gave the...
(The entire section is 787 words.)