Becoming Reinaldo Arenas

Family, Sexuality, and The Cuban Revolution

Becoming Reinaldo Arenas

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: Published: May 2013

Author: Jorge Olivares

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Latin American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Becoming Reinaldo Arenas explores the life and work of the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas (1943–1990), who emerged on the Latin American cultural scene in the 1960s and quickly achieved literary fame. Yet as a political dissident and an openly gay man, Arenas also experienced discrimination and persecution; he produced much of his work amid political controversy and precarious living conditions. In 1980, having survived ostracism and incarceration in Cuba, he arrived in the United States during the Mariel boatlift. Ten years later, after struggling with poverty and AIDS in New York, Arenas committed suicide.

Through insightful close readings of a selection of Arenas's works, including unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, Olivares examines the writer's personal, political, and artistic trajectory, focusing on his portrayals of family, sexuality, exile, and nostalgia. He documents Arenas's critical engagement with cultural and political developments in revolutionary Cuba and investigates the ways in which Arenas challenged literary and national norms. Olivares's analysis shows how Arenas drew on his life experiences to offer revealing perspectives on the Cuban Revolution, the struggles of Cuban exiles, and the politics of sexuality.


“[A] fascinating view of Cuban history, culture, and sexuality that should, if nothing else, send one back to that thrilling jeremiad, Before Night Falls.” — Andrew Holleran, Gay & Lesbian Review

“Olivares . . . draws from his personal connection with Arenas to illuminate novels and short stories by this daring writer . . . . Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” — R. Ocasio, Choice

“Jorge Olivares's admiring, meticulously researched study aims to establish Arenas's status as one of the maJor writers of the 1960s and 70s: a figure to stand comparison with Gabriel García Márquez or Mario Vargas Llosa.” — Stephen Henighan, TLS

"The recovery of this writer of exile is helping to shape an archive of writings that provide insight into the complexity of the Third World Left as it related to the exile of Cuban intellectuals."  — Lisa Corrigan, QED

"A provocative analysis and novelistic account, Becoming Reinaldo Arenas is both a necessary and timely contribution to the study of Cuban literature and that of Latin America and the Caribbean more broadly."  — Joshua Clough, AmeriQuests

"Olivares carries the weight of a thorough and profund critique of Arenas's work, while transcending the boundaries of literary criticism to become the novel of the life and work of Reinaldo Arenas." — Maria Luisa Negrin, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Becoming Reinaldo Arenas is an exemplary work of literary criticism. Using biographical criticism, intertextuality, and queer theory, Jorge Olivares presents a comprehensive study of Arenas’s literary work that balances careful readings of a number of short stories and novels with readings of his autobiography, unpublished correspondence, and drafts.” — Anke Birkenmaier, New West Indian Guide

"Becoming Reinaldo Arenas simply inspires us to reread this all-too-neglected author. Olivares' book invites us to view Arenas as a central figure in multiple literary canons, not least a trans-American queer canon. But beyond its conception of queer kinship, Becoming Reinaldo Arenas advocates for the centrality of queer experience to Cuban literature." — Octavio R. Gonzalez, Sargasso

"Clearly the product of years of research and reflection, this is by far the most thorough, persuasive, and profound account of Arenas's career to date. The author's mastery of writings by and about Arenas is impressive. The discussion of Arenas's fiction and nonfiction, focused on what Olivares calls 'paternal erotics,' is always instructive and often quite brilliant. The use of Arenas's unpublished materials, including early drafts of published works, not only throws new light on his published fiction but allows the reader to become acquainted with a largely unknown corpus of writing. As in the best criticism, there is an intimacy between observer and observed that, without leading to uncritical appreciation, makes for a memorable reading experience." — Gustavo Pérez Firmat, author of The Havana Habit

"Jorge Olivares’s book reads like an engrossing novel whose main character—the phenomenally talented Reinaldo Arenas—has a vitality and genius that haunt our imagination. This very personal, and relevant, work of literary criticism is a fitting tribute to a brave and great writer." — Jaime Manrique, author of Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me


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Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jorge Olivares is the Allen Family Professor of Latin American Literature at Colby College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Note on Translations xiii

Prologue. Encountering Arenas 1

1. I Scream, Therefore I Am 7

2. Climbing the Family Tree 36

3. In Search of the Father(land) 65

4. All About Mother 91

5. Facing AIDS 114

Epilogue. After Night Falls 148

Notes 173

Works Cited 203

Index 231
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5396-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5382-9
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