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Arenas, Reinaldo (16 July 1943–07 December 1990), novelist and political activist, was born in Holguín, a town in rural eastern Cuba, the son of Oneida Fuentes, a poor peasant woman, and a peasant father who abandoned his unborn child. Barely sixteen years old at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas received excellent instruction during the Campaigns against Illiteracy conducted by volunteers sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s ideals. Such an opportunity for self-improvement was unheard of during the regime of the deposed leader, Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Arenas received a scholarship so that he might pursue a career in accounting in Havana....

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Pelley, William Dudley (12 March 1890–01 July 1965), novelist, religious and political leader, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of William George Apsey Pelley, a Methodist minister and printer, and Grace Goodale. Pelley's family lived in several Massachusetts communities during Dudley's childhood. He dropped out of Springfield Technical High School during his sophomore year at the behest of his father, who needed his son to help him in a toilet paper factory he co-owned....

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Sinclair, Upton (20 September 1878–25 November 1968), novelist, reformer, and politician, was born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr., in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Upton Beall Sinclair, Sr., a wholesale liquor salesman, and Priscilla Harden. Sinclair’s father was irresponsible and alcoholic and left the boy’s care to his mother, who encouraged him to read. In 1886 or 1887 the family moved to New York City, where in 1889 Sinclair attended public school classes for the first time. During the next two years he completed eight elementary grades and in 1892 enrolled in the City College of New York. In 1894 he began to sell jokes and puzzles to children’s periodicals and a year later was selling stories to juvenile magazines to support himself. He graduated from City College with a B.A. in 1897, abandoned an ambition to become a lawyer, and enrolled in graduate school at Columbia University, all the while writing almost a hundred “half-dime” novels for Street and Smith, America’s leading pulp-fiction publisher. Attracted to courses in music, contemporary politics, and poetry, especially that of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sinclair decided to become an influential man of letters. In May 1900 he left Columbia without a graduate degree, rented a cabin for three months in southern Quebec, and wrote an idealistic novel, ...