Reinaldo Arenas, (born July 16, 1943, Oriente, Cuba — died Dec. 7, 1990, N.Y., U.S.), was a Cuban-born writer of extraordinary and unconventional novels who fled persecution and immigrated to the United States.
As a teenager Arenas joined the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. He moved to Havana in 1961 and became a researcher in the José Martí National Library (1963–68), an editor for the Cuban Book Institute (1967–68), and a journalist and editor for the literary magazine La Gaceta de Cuba (1968–74). During the 1970s, Arenas was imprisoned for his writings and open homosexuality. Suffering from AIDS, Arenas committed suicide in 1990.
José Lezama Lima, (born December 19, 1910, Havana, Cuba — died August 9, 1976, Havana), was a Cuban experimental poet, novelist, and essayist whose baroque writing style and eclectic erudition profoundly influenced other Caribbean and Latin American writers.
Lezama’s father, a military officer, died in 1919. Lezama was a sickly boy, and while recuperating from various illnesses he began to read broadly and avidly. After studying law in Havana, Lezama in 1937 helped found three short-lived literary reviews, Verbum (1937; three issues), Espuela de plata (1939–41; “Silver Spur;” six issues), and Nadie paracía (1942–44; “Nobody Can Interfere;” 10 issues). When these publications ceased, Lezama joined with Cuban editor and literary critic José Rodríguez Feo (1920–93) and others to found the influential arts periodical Orígenes (1944–56). In it they published the work of a number of excellent young artists and musicians together with the work of several young poets whose contributions revolutionized Cuban and Latin American letters.
His novel “Paradiso” (1966), published a few years later, is a coming-of-age story set in Cuba. It is a complex story told in often obscure language that reaffirms the narrator’s faith in his art and in himself. The book is considered to be Lezama’s masterpiece; it was one of his few works to be translated into English during his lifetime. As his work became well-known throughout Cuba, his life did as well. His personal life became the focus of a government doing its best to remove both queer people and their legacies. While José was married to a woman to give the appearance of heterosexuality, his queerness was an open secret.
Virgilio Piñera, (born August 4, 1912, — died October 18, 1979, Havana), was a playwright, short-story writer, poet, and essayist who became famous for his work as well as for his highly bohemian lifestyle. His life was one of his most outrageous creations.
He attended the University of Havana but refused to defend his dissertation before a “bunch of donkeys.” Thereafter, he found it difficult to find suitable employment and sometimes was forced to rely on family and friends for financial support. Piñera was not one to belong to literary groups or to associate himself with artistic and philosophical movements, and his frequent troubles with Castro’s regime came as a result of his irreverence and refusal to follow a party line.
Piñera was better known for his avant-garde theatre, such as the play Electra Garrigó (1943), than for his poetry or short stories, though his admirers recognized him as a master of the latter. His best collections are Cuentos fríos (1956; “Cold Tales”) and Pequeñas maniobras (1963; “Little Maneuvers”).
In the 1950s Piñera lived in Buenos Aires, and his work was published in the prestigious journal Sur. This period in Argentina was an influence on his work. Piñera returned to Cuba after the triumph of the revolution in 1959. But in 1961 he was jailed for “political and moral crimes.” (e.g: homosexuality) After his eventual release, he went on living as a marginal figure with few defenders among those in power, although in 1969 he did win Cuba’s most important literary award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, for his play Dos viejos pánicos (“Two Ancient Panics”).
HONORABLE MENTION TO A STRAIGHT ALLY
Leonardo de la Caridad Padura Fuentes is a Cuban novelist and journalist. As of 2007, he is one of Cuba's best-known writers internationally. In his native Spanish, as well as in English and some other languages, he is often referred to by the shorter form of his name, Leonardo Padura. Born: October 9, 1955 (age 65 years), Cuba.
Several of his books have gay characters who try to survive under the regime in an interview he said, "The character with whom I identified my possible position with exile is with the character who arrives in Madrid, a gay man, although I’m not gay, up until now [laughs]. He carries a series of belongings, of relationships. It’s not the same to leave without leaving anything behind than leaving everything behind. And that’s an element that roots you in a certain context and reality. That’s why that character, Irving, tries to create a routine to adapt to life in Madrid, but that routine is always permeated by absence, distance, remoteness and the feeling that he is no longer who he had been.”
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Pier Angelo was born in Italy, moved to England at the age of 17 and learned English at the Nelson School of English. He attended college and graduate school in Manhattan. In 2009 he founded SFGN with Norm Kent. Now he’s retired with his husband Tom and his Affenpinscher Cabbage. He still enjoys writing his column Off The Wall for SFGN.