When Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, the reverberations of his revolution caused a somewhat unlikely consequence: An explosion of literature never before seen in Latin America, and only rarely seen elsewhere, of such quantity and quality that it was labeled "the boom." “It’s not that Fidel influenced literature directly, but what the Cuban revolution and Fidel as its head did generate was a different Latin American identity," says the president of Mexico’s National Autonomous University. "There was a form of Latin American pride that allowed the flourishing of literature." After centuries under the weight of colonialism, writers saw Castro's success and "the triumph of the revolution filled them with enthusiasm," a Mexican professor tells Quartz. The names that emerged are titans of literature: Colombia's Gabriel García Márquez, Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa, Mexico's Carlos Fuentes, and Argentina's Julio Cortázar among them.
But Castro wasn't just inspiration—and his revolution didn't often manifest itself in these authors' works—he was also an obliging patron of the arts, opening the publishing house and writers' mecca Casa de las Américas just months after taking control. Authors "traveled to Cuba, and almost all of them came into personal contact with Fidel Castro," says the professor. Fuentes wrote his seminal novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz, there, while Cortázar wrote a colleague that "once you arrive to Cuba, you don’t want to leave." "Cuba, for one, is no longer just a little island. It’s actually the site of some really important historical events," says a University of Southern California literature professor. And the boom literature is “not simply what people ‘down there’ write, it’s actually one of the most important bodies of literature at the time." As for Castro himself, "He’s such a good reader, that before publishing a book I bring him the original manuscripts," García Márquez said in 1996. (Castro was quietly interred Sunday.)