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Reinaldo Arenas
Born July 16, 1943
Cuba Oriente
Died December 7, 1990 (aged 47)
United States New York City, New York
Nationality Cuban
Writing period 1966-1990
Genres poetry, novel, drama
Notable work(s) Pentagonia
Before Night Falls

Reinaldo Arenas (July 16, 1943 – December 7, 1990) 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 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.[1] 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).[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] In 1980, as part of the Mariel Boatlift, he fled to the United States.[5]


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"), Palace of the White Skunks, the Rabelaisian 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...", Hector of "Farewell..", and the triply-named "Gabriel/Reinaldo/Gloomy Skunk" character in "Color" appear to live progressive stages of a continuous life story that is also linked to Arenas's own[6]. 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 Angel 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.


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.[7]

Notable works

  • El mundo alucinante (1966) ISBN 84-8310-775-9, OCLC 421023; English translation Hallucinations (2001 reissue) ISBN 0-14-200019-1
  • Cantando en el pozo (1982) (originally published as Celestino antes del alba (1967)) English translation Singing from the Well (1987) ISBN 0-14-009444-X
  • El palacio de las blanquisimas mofetas (1982) English translation The Palace of the White Skunks (1990) ISBN 0-14-009792-9
  • Otra vez el mar (1982) English translation Farewell to the Sea (1987) ISBN 0-14-006636-5
  • El color del verano (1982) English translation The Color of Summer (1990) ISBN 0-14-015719-0
  • El Asalto (1990) English translation The Assault (1992) ISBN 0-14-015718-2
  • El portero (1987) English translation The Doorman (1991) ISBN 0-8021-3405-X
  • Antes que anochezca (1992) English translation Before Night Falls (1993) ISBN 0-14-015765-4
  • Mona and Other Tales (2001) ISBN 0-375-72730-2 This is an English translation of a collection of short stories originally published in Spanish in Spain between 1995 and 2001
  • Con los ojos cerrados (1972),
  • La vieja Rosa (1980), English Translation Old Rosa (1995) ISBN 0-8021-3406-8
  • El central (1981), ISBN 0-380-86934-9
  • Termina el desfile (1981).
  • Arturo, la estrella más brillante (1984),
  • Cinco obras de teatro bajo el título Persecución (1986).
  • Necesidad de libertad (1986)
  • La Loma del Angel (1987), English Translation Graveyard of the Angels (1987) ISBN 0-380-75075-9
  • Voluntad de vivir manifestándose (1989) ISBN 987-9396-55-3
  • Viaje a La Habana (1990). ISBN 0-89729-544-7
  • Final de un cuento (El Fantasma de la glorieta) (1991) ISBN 84-86842-38-7
  • Adiós a mamá (1996) ISBN 0-89729-791-1

Further reading


  • Reinaldo Arenas (Twayne's World Author Series) / Francisco Soto., 1998
  • Reinaldo Arenas: The Pentagonía / Francisco Soto. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994
  • The postmodern poetic narrative of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas / Ileana C Zéndegui., 2004
  • The manufacture of an author : Reinaldo Arenas's literary world, his readers and other contemporaries / Claudio Canaparo., 2000
  • Reinaldo Arenas: tradition and singularity / Francisco Soto., 1988
  • Reinaldo Arenas: the agony is the ecstasy / Dinora Caridad Cardoso., 1997
  • Cosmopolitanisms and Latin America: Against the Destiny of Place / Jacqueline Loss. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005 [A detailed study of Reinaldo Arenas and Diamela Eltit's cosmopolitan aspects]
  • "Lifewriting with a Vengeance: Truth, Subalternity and Autobiographical Determination in Reinaldo Arenas's Antes que anochezca,' By: Sandro R. Barros, Caribe: Revista de Cultura y Literatura, 2006 Summer; 9 (1): 41-56.
  • "A Postmodern 'Play' on a Nineteenth-Century Cuban Classic: Reinaldo Arenas's La Loma del Angel," By: H. J. Manzari, Decimonónica: Journal of Nineteenth Century Hispanic Cultural Production, 2006 Summer; 3 (2): 45-58.
  • "The Molecular Poetics of Before Night Falls," By: Teresa Rizzo, Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 2006 Spring; 11-12.
  • "Queer Parody and Intertextuality: A Postmodern Reading of Reinaldo Arenas's El cometa Halley," By: Francisco Soto, IN: Ingenschay, Desde aceras opuestas: Literatura/cultura gay y lesbiana en Latinoamérica. Madrid, Spain; Frankfurt, Germany: Iberoamericana; Vervuert; 2006. pp. 245-53
  • "Revisiting the Circuitous Odyssey of the Baroque Picaresque Novel: Reinaldo Arenas's El mundo alucinante," By: Angela L. Willis, Comparative Literature, 2005 Winter; 57 (1): 61-83.
  • "The Traumas of Unbelonging: Reinaldo Arenas's Recuperations of Cuba," By: Laurie Vickroy, MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 2005 Winter; 30 (4): 109-28.
  • "Difficult Writings: AIDS and the Activist Aesthetic in Reinaldo Arenas' Before Night Falls," By: Diana Davidson, Atenea, 2003 Dec; 23 (2): 53-71.


  • Reinaldo Arenas : una apreciación política / Adolfo Cacheiro., 2000
  • Reinaldo Arenas : recuerdo y presencia / Reinaldo Sánchez., 1994
  • La escritura de la memoria : Reinaldo Arenas, textos, estudios y documentación / Ottmar Ette., 1992
  • Reinaldo Arenas : narrativa de transgresión / Perla Rozencvaig., 1986
  • La alucinación y los recursos literarios en las novelas de Reinaldo Arenas / Félix Lugo Nazario., 1995
  • El círculo del exilio y la enajenación en la obra de Reinaldo Arenas / María Luisa Negrín., 2000
  • La textualidad de Reinaldo Arenas : juegos de la escritura posmoderna / Eduardo C Bejar., 1987
  • Reinaldo Arenas : alucinaciones, fantasía y realidad / Julio E Hernández-Miyares., 1990
  • El desamparado humor de Reinaldo Arenas / Roberto Valero., 1991
  • Ideología y subversión : otra vez Arenas / Reinaldo Sánchez., 1999


  1. ^ Cuba Center (dead link)
  2. ^ (Soto 1998)
  3. ^ (Colchie 2001)
  4. ^ (dead link)
  5. ^ Reinaldo Arenas Papers at Princeton Libraries
  6. ^ Soto, Francisco. "Reinaldo Arenas." Twayne Publishers: London, 1998.
  7. ^ Reinaldo Arenas' Last Letter

[1]. There is a biography at

See also

Literature portal
Cuba portal

External links

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