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Born in rural Cuba in 1943, Arenas joined Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement as a teenager. He worked for the new government during the 1960s and began publishing his own fiction. His first novel Singing from the Well [Celestino antes del alba] won the Prix Medici in France in 1969 for best foreign novel. Arenas was not willing to hide his homosexuality, and that, along with the content of his writing, made the government target him as a social misfit and counter-revolutionary. He spent a long stretch of time in prison, where he continued writing and tried to smuggle his work abroad. In 1980 he escaped Cuba during the Mariel boat lift, and settled in New York. Living in poverty in a sixth floor walk-up in Manhattan, Arenas wrote steadily, including several more novels and a celebrated autobiography, Before Night Falls, which described his life in Cuba and was harshly critical of Castro’s rule. Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Arenas said of his writing that it “kept me alive . . . It’s my revenge.” With his health declining rapidly, Arenas chose to end his life in December 1990.