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Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990)

Biographical Information

Born July 16, 1943, in Holguin, Cuba, Arenas immigrated to the United States in 1980 on the Mariel Boatlift. He died in New York, NY in 1990. While in Cuba, he worked as an editor at the Instituto Cubano del Libro and an editor and writer for the La Gaceta de Cuba from 1968-74 before being imprisoned by the Castro government from 1974-76. After arriving in the U.S. he was visiting professor of Cuban literature at International University of Florida, the Center for Inter-American Relations, and Cornell University. He also served as a guest lecturer at several universities including Princeton, Georgetown, Stockholms Universitet, and Kansas. Arenas won the French Prix Medici in 1969 for Celestino antes del alba. He was a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Wilson Center Foundation.

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Description of Archival Collection (MSH/SCL 1394-1)

The work is a carbon typescript with some corrections in the type and by hand of this short story collection, which is his first collection of fiction. It is 152 pages in length on various types of paper.

Arenas submitted this particular manuscript, along with one other copy, to a short story competition held by the UNEAC (Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba) in 1968, in which it received an honorable mention. The cover of the manuscript bears a stamp on the lower right corner which reads, "CUENTO, No 12 Fecha 30 Sep 1968," and above it is written in blue pencil "Cuento (CopiaII)." The present stories were written from 1963 to 1968, while Arenas worked in the National Library. A number of pages attest to that fact, and carry the letterhead of the Biblioteca Nacional José Marti on their versos.

Despite the undisputed literary quality of these texts, they were never published in Cuba since by 1968 Arenas had already fallen out of favor with Castro's regime for, among other things, having illegally published his second novel, El mundo alucinante, outside of the country. Since Arenas correctly surmised that these stories would not be published, he had both manuscripts smuggled out of the country by two different individuals. This copy is inscribed to the Cuban-American author and journalist José Yglesias, who was visiting Cuba in 1968 collecting information for his now classic portrait of country life in revolutionary Cuba, In the First of the Revolution. The inscription reads "A José-Yglesias, este manuscrito, por ahora inédito, con la admiración de Reinaldo Arenas." The inscription is followed by Arenas's address in Cuba.
Unfortunately, since Yglesias sympathized with the Revolution, he chose to do nothing with the manuscript upon his return to the United States, and the stories allegedly sat in his closet for thirty years. The other copy of the manuscript met a slightly happier fate when it was placed in the hands of Angel Rama, who published it in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1972. Arenas was not aware that the book was published until 10 years later when he escaped Cuba via the Mariel boatlift of 1980.

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Arenas, Reinaldo. Con los ojos cerrados Montevideo: Arca, [1972].
(Hesburgh Library, General Collection: PQ 7390 .A72 C6)

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