José Martí (1853–95), poet, journalist, and patriot, was the moving spirit behind the revolution that liberated Cuba from Spain. Antonio Maceo (1848–96), the mulatto general known as the "Titan of Bronze," became famous both as a guerrilla fighter and as an uncompromising advocate of independence. Carlos J. Finlay (1833–1915) gained lasting recognition for his theory regarding the transmission of yellow fever.
Cuban literature is most famous for its poetry and essays. The influential Afro-Cuban tradition has been explored by Cuban scholars, most notably by Fernando Ortiz (1881–1916), jurist and ethnographer. Another leading writer was José Antonio Saco (1797–1879), author of a six-volume history of slavery. Ernesto Lecuona (1896–1963) was a composer of popular music, and Juan José Sicre (b.1898) is Cuba's outstanding sculptor.
The major heroes of the revolution against Batista are Fidel Castro Ruz (b.1926); his brother, Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz (b.1931); Argentine-born Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928–67), who was killed while engaged in revolutionary activities in Bolivia; and Camilo Cienfuegos (d.1959). Cubans notable in literature include poet Nicolás Guillén (1902–89) and playwright and novelist Alejo Carpentier y Valmont (1904–80). Alicia Alonso (b.1921), a noted ballerina, founded the National Ballet of Cuba.