R. A. Lafferty
|R. A. Lafferty|
Lafferty in a portion of his extensive library. Photo by Keith Purtell.
|Born||Raphael Aloysius Lafferty
November 7, 1914
|Died||March 18, 2002
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
|Occupation||Novelist, short story author|
|Genres||Science fiction, Fantasy|
|Notable work(s)||Past Master|
Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (November 7, 1914 - March 18, 2002) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer known for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure, as well as for his etymological wit. He also wrote a set of four autobiographical novels, In a Green Tree; a history book, The Fall of Rome; and a number of novels that could be more or less loosely called historical fiction.
Lafferty was born on November 7, 1914, in Neola, Iowa to Hugh David Lafferty, a broker dealing in oil leases and royalties, and Julia Mary Burke, a teacher; he was the youngest of five siblings. His first name, Raphael, derived from the day on which he was expected to be born--(the Feast of St. Raphael). When he was 4, his family moved to Perry, Oklahoma. He graduated from Cascia Hall and later attended night school at the University of Tulsa for two years starting in 1933, mostly studying math and German, but left before graduating. He then began to work for a Clark Electric Co. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and apparently a newspaper as well; during this period (1939–1942), he attended the International Correspondence School.
R. A. Lafferty lived most of his life in Tulsa, with his sister, Anna Lafferty. Lafferty enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. After training in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and California, he was sent to the South Pacific Area, serving in Australia, New Guinea, Morotai and the Philippines. When he left the Army in 1946, he had become a 1st Sergeant serving as a staff sergeant and had received an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal . He never married.
Lafferty did not begin writing until the 1950s, but he wrote thirty-two novels and more than two hundred short stories, most of them at least nominally science fiction. His first published story was "The Wagons" in New Mexico Quarterly Review in 1959. His first published science fiction story was "Day of the Glacier", in The Original Science Fiction Stories in 1960, and his first published novel was Past Master in 1968.
Until 1971, Lafferty worked as an electrical engineer. After that, he spent his time writing until around 1980, when his output declined due to a stroke. He stopped writing regularly in 1984. In 1994, he suffered an even more severe stroke. He died 18 March 2002, aged 87 in a nursing home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. His collected papers, artifacts, and ephemera were donated to the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Other manuscripts are housed in the University of Iowa's Library special collections department.
Lafferty's funeral took place at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tulsa, where he regularly attended daily Mass. He is buried at St. Rose Catholic Cemetery in Perry.
Lafferty's quirky prose drew from traditional storytelling styles, largely from the Irish and Native American, and his shaggy-dog characters and tall tales are unique in science fiction. Little of Lafferty's writing is considered typical of the genre. His stories are closer to tall tales than traditional science fiction and are deeply influenced by his Catholic beliefs; Fourth Mansions, for example, draws on The Interior Mansions of Teresa of Avila.
His writings, both topically and stylistically, are not easy to categorize. Plot is frequently secondary to other elements of Lafferty's writing; while this style has resulted in a loyal cult following, it causes some readers to give up attempting to read his work.
Not all of Lafferty's work was science fiction or fantasy; his novel Okla Hannali (1972), published by University of Oklahoma Press, tells the story of the Choctaw in Mississippi, and after the Trail of Tears, in Oklahoma, through an account of the larger-than-life character Hannali and his large family. This novel was thought of highly by the novelist Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), who on the back cover of the edition of published by the University of Oklahoma Press, writes "The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it ... Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian." He also wrote, "It is art applied to history so that the legend of the Choctaws, their great and small men, their splendid humor, and their tragedies are filled with life and breath."
- Lafferty, R. A. (1971). The Fall of Rome (hardcover) (first ed.). Garden City, N.Y. USA: Doubleday. p. 302. LCCN 73-131087. (Lafferty's fifth book)
- Lafferty, R. A (1995). It's down the slippery cellar stairs: essays and speeches on fantastic literature. San Bernardino, California: Borgo Press.
Historical novels 
- The Flame is Green, 1st volume of the Coscuin Chronicles (1971)
- Half a Sky, 2nd volume of the Coscuin Chronicles (1984)
- Sardinian Summer, 3rd volume of the Coscuin Chronicles (unpublished)
- First and Last Islands, 4th and final volume of the Coscuin Chronicles (unpublished)
- Okla Hannali (1972)
- Esteban (unpublished)
Science Fiction and Fantasy novels 
- Past Master, 1968
- The Reefs of Earth, 1968
- Space Chantey, 1968 (a retelling of the Odyssey in SF terms).
- Fourth Mansions, 1969
- Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine as Conveyed to R. A. Lafferty, 1971
- Not to Mention Camels, 1976
- Aurelia, 1982
- Annals of Klepsis, 1983
- Serpent's Egg, 1987
- East of Laughter, 1988
- The Elliptical Grave, 1989
- Dotty, 1990
- Sindbad: The Thirteenth Voyage, 1999
- When All the World Was Young (unpublished)
Autobiographical novels 
In a Green Tree
- My Heart Leaps Up, 1920-1928
- Grasshoppers and Wild Honey, 1928-1942 (unpublished)
- Deep Scars of the Thunder, 1942-1960 (unpublished)
- Incidents of Travel in Flatland, 1960-1978 (unpublished)
The Devil is Dead Trilogy 
- The Devil is Dead (1971)
- the "Interglossia"; a portion of The Devil is Dead which was omitted from printings of it; the Interglossia has been republished in How Many Miles to Babylon? & in pgs 16-18, Issue 5 of A Magazine of Popular Literature and Popular Culture, in 1972 (ed. by Tom Collins & published by Fan Press of Lakemont, GA) ; OCLC: 70161160
- "Apocryphal Passage of the Last Night Of Count Finnegan On Galveston Island"; the last chapter of The Devil Is Dead, omitted from the standard version, because the publisher of the first edition did not receive it in time to include it; later published separately in Episodes of the Argo
- Archipelago: the first book of The Devil is Dead trilogy (1979)
- More Than Melchisedech
- Tales of Chicago
- Tales of Midnight
Miscellaneous unpublished novels or otherwise unknown 
- Iron Tongue of Midnight
- Dark Shine
- Fair Hills of Ocean
- Funnyfingers & Cabrito (Pendragon Press, 1976)
- Horns On Their Heads (Pendragon Press, 1976)
- Promontory goats (c. 1988; Publisher: United Mythologies Press)
- True believers (c. 1988; Publisher: United Mythologies Press)
- Strange skies (c. 1988; Publisher: United Mythologies Press)
- Mischief malicious (c. 1991; Publisher: United Mythologies Press)
- How Many Miles to Babylon?
- Where have You been Sandaliotis?
- The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeney
- Lafferty, R. A. (1971). Ishmael into the Barrens (1st edition ed.). pp. 1–50. Ishmael into the Barrens was first printed in the 1971 anthology Four Futures: Four Original Novellas of Science Fiction, New York, New York; Hawthorn Books (195 pages; it contains the "Foreword: Four Themes for Four Futures" by Isaac Asimov; Ishmael into the Barrens by R. A. Lafferty; Braver Newer World by Harry Harrison; How Can We Sink When We Can Fly? by Alexei Panshin; and Going by Robert Silverberg; LCCN: 79-158024)
Short stories 
- "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire"
- "Six Fingers of Time"
Short story collections 
(the following collections have no overlap except where noted)
- Nine Hundred Grandmothers (21 stories): Nine Hundred Grandmothers / Land of the Great Horses / Ginny Wrapped in the Sun / The Six Fingers of Time / Frog on the Mountain / All the People / Primary Education of the Camiroi / Slow Tuesday Night / Snuffles / Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne / Name of the Snake / Narrow Valley / Polity and Custom of the Camiroi / In Our Block / Hog-Belly Honey / Seven-Day Terror / The Hole on the Corner / What’s the Name of That Town? / Through Other Eyes / One at a Time / Guesting Time
- Strange Doings (16 stories): Rainbird / Camels and Dromedaries, Clem / Continued on Next Rock / Once on Aranea / Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas / The Man with the Speckled Eyes / All But the Words / The Transcendent Tigers / World Abounding / Dream / Ride a Tin Can / Aloys / Entire and Perfect Chrysolite / Incased in Ancient Rind / The Ugly Sea / Cliffs That Laughed. 276 pages, 1972, SBN 684-12530-7; New York, America and Canada, Charles Scribner's Sons.
- Does Anyone Else Have Something Further To Add? Stories About Secret Places and Mean Men (16 stories): About a Secret Crocodile / Mad Man / Nor Limestone Islands / The Man Underneath / Boomer Flats / This Grand Carcass Yet / In the Garden / Groaning Hinges of the World / Golden Trabant / How They Gave It Back / Maybe Jones and the City / Seven Story Dream / Adam Had Three Brothers / Pig in a Pokey / The Weirdest World / The Ultimate Creature
- Golden Gate and Other Stories (16 stories): Golden Gate / Mr. Hamadryad / This Boding Itch / Condillac's Statue / The Cliff Climbers / McGruder's Marvels / Tongues of the Matagorda / Ishmael into the Barrens (previously published in Four Futures) / Eurema's Dam / Days of Grass, Days of Straw / Make Sure the Eyes Are Big Enough / Bequest of Wings / Fall of Pebble-Stones / Marsilia V / One-Eyed Mocking Bird / Sky
- Through Elegant Eyes (15 stories): The All-At-Once Man / Mud Violet / Barnaby's Clock / And Read the Flesh Between the Lines / Animal Fair / The Ungodly Mice of Dr. Drakos / The Two-Headed Dragon of Chris Benedetti / The Hellaceous Rocket of Harry O'Donovan / The Wooly World of Barnaby Sheen / Rivers of Damascus / Old Helloweens on the Guna Slopes / Brain Fever Season / What Big Tears the Dinosaur's / And all the Skies Are Full of Fish / St. Poleander's Eve
- Iron Tears (15 stories): You Can't Go Back / Ifrit / Lord Torpedo, Lord Gyroscope / Funnyfingers / Thieving Bear Planet / Berryhill / The World As Will and Wallpaper / Horns On Their Heads / By the Sea Shore / Selenium Ghosts of the Eighteen Seventies / Magazine Section / Or Little Ducks Each Day / Cabrito / Le Hot Sport / Gray Ghost: A Reminiscence
- Lafferty in Orbit (19 stories, 5 overlap the above; in addition, another 4 can be found in the collection Ringing Changes, below): Old Foot Forgot / All Pieces of a River Shore / Bright Coins in Never-Ending Stream / Flaming Ducks and Giant Bread / The Hole on the Corner / The Skinny People of Leptophlebo Street / Continued on Next Rock / Entire and Perfect Chrysolite / Great Day in the Morning / The Hand with One Hundred Fingers / One at a Time / Royal Licorice / And Name My Name / Fall of Pebble Stones / Configuration of the North Shore / Dorg / When All the Lands Pour Out Again / Interurban Queen / The Only Tune That He Could Play
- Ringing Changes (20 stories, 13 overlap the above): Parthen / Old Foot Forgot / Dorg / Days of Grass, Days of Straw / Brain Fever Season / And Read the Flesh Between the Lines / Old Halloweens on the Guna Slopes / The Ungodly Mice of Doctor Drakos / The Wooly World of Barnaby Sheen / Rivers of Damascus / Among the Hairy Earthmen / In Outraged Stone / And Name My Name / Sky / For All Poor Folks at Picketwire / Oh Whatta You Do When the Well Runs Dry ? / And Some in Velvet Gowns / The Doggone Highly Scientific Door / Interurban Queen / Been a Long Long Time
- The back door of history, 1988, United Mythologies Press in Weston, Ont., Canada: Phoenic / Six leagues from Lop / Rainy day in Halicarnasses / Assault on Fat Mountain / Calamities of last pauper / Rogue raft.
- The early Lafferty, c. 1988, United Mythologies Press.
- The early Lafferty II, c. 1990, United Mythologies Press.
Awards and recognition 
Lafferty received Hugo nominations for Past Master, "Continued on the Next Rock," "Sky," and "Eurema's Dam," the last of which won the Best Short Story Hugo in 1973 (shared with Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's "The Meeting.") 
He received Nebula Award nominations for "In Our Block," "Slow Tuesday Night," Past Master, Fourth Mansions, "Continued on Next Rock," "Entire And Perfect Chrysolite," and The Devil is Dead. He never received a Nebula award.
His collection Lafferty in Orbit was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and in 1990, Lafferty received a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. His 1992 collection Iron Tears was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. In 2002, he received the Cordwainer Smith Foundation's Rediscovery award.
"[Once a] French publisher nervously asked whether Lafferty minded being compared to G. K. Chesterton (another Catholic author), and there was a terrifying silence that went on and on. Was the great man hideously offended? Eventually, very slowly, he said: 'You're on the right track, kid,' and wandered away." 
There was a writer from Tulsa, Oklahoma (he died in 2002), who was, for a little while in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the best short story writer in the world. His name was R. A. Lafferty, and his stories were unclassifiable and odd and inimitable -- you knew you were reading a Lafferty story within a sentence. When I was young I wrote to him, and he wrote back.
"Sunbird" was my attempt to write a Lafferty story, and it taught me a number of things, mostly how much harder they are than they look....
Gaiman and Lafferty had corresponded for several years during Gaiman's adolescence; he remembered Lafferty's letters as "filled with typical cock-eyed Lafferty humour and observations, wise and funny and sober all at once."
Further reading 
- R. A. Lafferty (1990), Cranky old man from Tulsa: interviews with R.A. Lafferty, Weston, Ont., Canada: United Mythologies Press, ISBN 092132216X, OCLC 26768241, 092132216X
- "Unpublished Lafferty: 1", Ferguson, NYRSF #281 January 2012
- Gene Wolfe wrote in an introduction to Episodes of the Argo that "[Lafferty may be] the most original writer in the history of literature"; Michael Swanwick has written that "if there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him", this is quoted on the back cover of the original edition of Lafferty in Orbit; Neil Gaiman has said that "[Lafferty's] stories are without precedent"; Harlan Ellison has written that "Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else's"... See "Quotations about Lafferty" for more: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/R._A._Lafferty
- http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2011/03/sf-tidbits-for-3311/ http://www.sfsite.com/news/2011/03/02/lafferty-estate-for-sale/ http://locusmag.com/2011/Ads/digitallafferty.jpg
- "Sci-fi author R.A. Lafferty rites set." Tulsa World 21 Mar. 2002, Final Home Edition, NEWS: 12. NewsBank. Web. 31 Mar. 2010.
- "Rafael A. Lafferty, 87, Science Fiction Writer". The New York Times. March 29, 2002. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
- "R.A. Lafferty (1914-2002), Locus, May 2002, p.9, 68.
- "Virginia Kidd (1921-2003)"
- From an SFX magazine column by David Langford; issue #92, June 2002
- Introduction to Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman. published 2006 by William Morrow. page xxvii
- "Lafferty," Neil Gaiman, Locus, May 2002, p.68.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: R. A. Lafferty|
- R. A. Lafferty at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Works by R. A. Lafferty at Project Gutenberg
- "R. A. Lafferty: Winner of the 2002 Cordwainer Smith Foundation "Rediscovery" Award
- R. A. Lafferty Devotional Page
- R. A. Lafferty: Effective Arcanum - a critical examination of aspects of Lafferty's prose
- "And They Took the Sky Off at Night" - an appreciation of Lafferty by editor Brian Cholfin
- "The Devil is Dead", a review
- "The Flame is Green", an essay and review of Lafferty's (non-SF) novel of revolutionary Europe, by John J. Reilly
- "Past Master", a review at the Writers' Circle
- "Okla Hannali", a book review and generous sampler
- Collection of obituaries
- Article on Lafferty at Everything2
- University of Tulsa McFarlin Library's inventory of the R. A. Lafferty collection housed in their special collections department
- University of Iowa's page on their special collection of his papers
- "The Cranky Old Man of Tulsa"
- " A Few Words About R. A. Lafferty"
- "Despair and the Duck Lady", Profile of Lafferty by Michael Swanwick
- "R.A. Lafferty: An Attempt at an Appreciation"
- The Ants of God Are Queer Fish - R. A. Lafferty Blog
- Review by Ann Cecil
- Past Masters: Secret Crocodiles and Strange Doings (or Sometimes the Magic Really Works) by Bud Webster at Grantville Gazette
Works available online 
- Narrow Valley
- Nine Hundred Grandmothers
- The Six Fingers of Time
- Slow Tuesday Night
- Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas
- The Transcendent Tigers