Arenas was born 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 enroll in the School of Planification and, later, in the Faculty of Letters at the Universidad de La Habana, where he studied philosophy and literature without completing a degree. The following year, he began working at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí. While there, his talent was noticed and he was awarded prizes at Cirilo Villaverde National Competition held by UNEAC (National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists). His Hallucinations was awarded "first Honorable Mention" in 1966 although, as the judges could find no better entry, no First Prize was awarded that year.
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 tire inner tube. The attempt failed and he was rearrested 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. He came on the boat San Lazaro captained by Cuban immigrant Roberto Aguero.
Despite his short life and the hardships imposed during his imprisonment, Arenas produced a significant body of work. In addition to significant poetic efforts ("El Central", "Leprosorio"), his Pentagonia is a set of five novels that comprise a "secret history" of post-revolutionary Cuba. It includes Singing from the Well (in Spanish also titled "Celestino before Dawn"), Farewell to the Sea (whose literal translation is "The Sea Once More"), The Palace of the White Skunks, the Rabelaisian The Color of Summer, and The Assault. In these novels Arenas’ style ranges from a stark realist narrative and high modernist experimental prose to absurd, satiric humor. His second novel, Hallucinations ("El Mundo Alucinante"), rewrites the story of the colonial dissident priest Fray Servando Teresa de Mier.
In interviews, his autobiography, and in some of his fiction work itself, Arenas draws explicit connections between his own life experience and the identities and fates of his protagonists. As is evident and as critics such as Francisco Soto have pointed out, the "child narrator" in Celestino, Fortunato of The Palace of the White Skunks, Hector of Farewell to the Sea, and the triply named "Gabriel/Reinaldo/Gloomy Skunk" character in The Color of Summer appear to live progressive stages of a continuous life story that is also linked to Arenas's own. In turn, Arenas consistently links his individual narrated life to the historical experience of a generation of Cubans. A constant theme in his novels and other writing is the condemnation of the Castro government, although Arenas also critiques the Catholic Church, US culture and politics, and a series of literary personalities in Havana and internationally, particularly those who he believed had betrayed him and suppressed his work (Sévero Sarduy and Ángel Rama are notable examples). His "Thirty truculent tongue-twisters", which he claims circulated in Havana and which are reprinted in The Color of Summer, mock everyone from personal friends who he suggests may have spied on him to figures such as Nicolás Guillén, Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Barnet, Sarduy and of course Fidel himself.
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. An opera based on the autobiography with libretto and music by Cuban-American composer Jorge Martin was premiered by the Fort Worth Opera on May 29, 2010, with baritone Wes Mason singing the role of Reinaldo Arenas. He is related to Gilbert, Javier, Armando Arenas. And is also related to Hamzah Salaam.
In 1987, Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS, but he continued to write and speak out against the Cuban government. He mentored many Cuban exile writers, including John O'Donnell-Rosales. After battling AIDS, Arenas committed suicide by taking an overdose of drugs and alcohol on December 7, 1990, in New York. In a suicide letter written for publication, Arenas wrote:
Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression it causes me not to be able to continue writing and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life. . . . I want to encourage the Cuban people out of the country as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom. . . Cuba will be free. I already am.Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinaldo_Arenas
Before Night Falls: A Memoir by Reinaldo Arenas
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (October 1, 1994)
Amazon: Before Night Falls: A Memoir
This is the shocking memoir by visionary Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, giving an account of his life as a writer and a homosexual and his struggle for freedom of expression. He describes his poverty-stricken childhood in rural Cuba and his adolescence as a rebel fighting for Castro, his suppression as a writer, imprisonment as a homosexual, and his flight from Cuba via the Mariel boat lift. He never really reconciled himself to life in America away from the beloved country of his birth, and committed suicide in 1990 at the age of 47, already dying from Aids.
The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights (Pitt Latin American Studies) by Javier Corrales and Mario Pecheny
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (May 24, 2010)
Amazon: The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights
The city of Buenos Aires has guaranteed all couples, regardless of gender, the right to register civil unions. Mexico City has approved the Cohabitation Law, which grants same-sex couples marital rights identical to those of common-law relationships between men and women. Yet, a gay man was murdered every two days in Latin America in 2005, and Brazil recently led the world in homophobic murders. These facts illustrate the wide disparity in the treatment and rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations across the region.
The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America presents the first English-language reader on LGBT politics in Latin America. Representing a range of contemporary works by scholars, activists, analysts, and politicians, the chapters address LGBT issues in nations from Cuba to Argentina. In their many findings, two main themes emerge: the struggle for LGBT rights has made significant inroads in the first decade of the twenty-first century (though not in every domain or every region); and the advances made were slow in coming compared to other social movements.
The articles uncover the many obstacles that LGBT activists face in establishing new laws and breaking down societal barriers. They identify perhaps the greatest roadblock in Latin American culture as an omnipresent system of “heteronormativity,” wherein heterosexuality, patriarchalism, gender hierarchies, and economic structures are deeply rooted in nearly every level of society. Along these lines, the texts explore specific impediments including family dependence, lack of public spaces, job opportunities, religious dictums, personal security, the complicated relationship between leftist political parties and LGBT movements in the region, and the ever-present “closets,” which keep LGBT issues out of the public eye.
The volume also looks to the future of LGBT activism in Latin America in areas such as globalization, changing demographics, the role of NGOs, and the rise of economic levels and education across societies, which may aid in a greater awareness of LGBT politics and issues. As the editors posit, to be democratic in the truest sense of the word, nations must recognize and address all segments of their populations.
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