Reinaldo Arenas, born in Cuba in 1943, wasn’t always a writer. At the young age of fourteen, Arenas joined the guerilla movements in support of Fidel Castro. When he fled towards the hills after witnessing a lynching of rebels against the Batista regime, the guerilla groups refused to take him because he did not carry a weapon and they had more than enough men. Arenas grew up as a peasant from a family of peasants who like the majority of the country at the time, understood what it meant to be poor, and were early sympathizers of Fidel Castro’s guerillas. Once the Batista regime fell, Arenas enlisted at the University of Havana to study agriculture but became enamored with the likes of Marx and Lenin, works compulsories to the university program. His family were in agriculture, and he worked on farms before enrolling at the University of Havana. At university, his interests became political and when the revolutionary principles of Fidel Castro became anti-ideological to those who deviated from commonality and more totalitarian, he strayed from the regime. That is, when he became an editor for the Cuban Book Institute from 1967-1968 and an editor for a Cuban newspaper, he began to take notice of the new emerging totalitarianisms of the Castro regime.
He wrote his first novel Celestino antes del alba (Singing from the Well) in 1967, his only work published in Cuba. At the time, a writer was only allowed to publish work that was approved by the bureaucratic government. His writings were viewed as critical of the regime and as such unpublishable. His other works, which were published in Europe, were smuggled into France for publication by other writers who also risked imprisonment for such deeds. This was a crime at the time, smuggling work outside Cuba’s borders, yet one of his most famous novels El Mundo Alucinante in 1969 (Hallucinations) was published this way.
In the 1970s Arenas became imprisoned for three years for his intellectual writings and his open homosexuality. He was targeted by local police. A common attribute of the Castro regime, if one’s work was in deviation to the common and accepted perceptions of Cuba, was to steal manuscripts, dispose of manuscripts, block authors from publication, and at the last humiliating stroke publicly jail an intellectual for their work. In 1980, he ran into a police station, announced his homosexuality and was able to gain asylum during the Mariel program that granted many refugees status into the United States. In the United States, he faced many critiques regarding his choice to seek refuge from the Castro regime by other well-known academics, and at such universities, gave a voice to the hardships endured by the Cuban people of the time.
Arenas’ writings of a 1960s Cuba are historic writings that made him famous upon his resettlement in the United States. He wrote in his poems of love, life, and of a patriotism, with his most known poetic works being Introducción del símbolo de la fe (Introduction of the symbol of faith), Viejo Niño (Old Child) and Mientras El Cielo Gire (As Long as the Sky Whirls).
Arenas lived through the Cold War era, the Post-Stonewall era, and the AIDS era. Unfortunately, driven by depression he committed suicide in 1990 in New York City after being diagnosed with AIDS. Reinaldo Arenas published ten novels, including an autobiography, dozens of poems, and other writings before the time of his death. His most critically acclaimed novel Otra Vez el Mar (Farewell to the Sea) was published in 1982. His most famous work, Antes que Anochezca: autobiografia (Before Night Falls), an autobiography, was published posthumously in 1992.