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Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
New York City
|Occupation||novelist and poet|
|Nationality||Spanish and American|
Felipe Alfau (1902–1999) was a Spanish-born American novelist and poet. Like his contemporaries Luigi Pirandello and Flann O'Brien, Alfau is considered a forerunner of later postmodern writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, and Gilbert Sorrentino.
Born in Barcelona, Alfau emigrated with his family at the age of fourteen to the United States, where he lived the remainder of his life. Alfau earned a living as a translator; his sparse fictional and poetic output remained obscure throughout most of his life.
Alfau wrote two novels in English: Locos: A Comedy of Gestures and Chromos. Locos — a metafictive collection of related short stories set in Toledo and Madrid, involving several characters that defy the wishes of the author, write their own stories, and even assume each other's roles — was published by Farrar & Rinehart in 1936. The novel, for which Alfau was paid $250, received some critical acclaim, but little popular attention. The novel was republished in 1987 after Steven Moore, then an editor for the small publisher Dalkey Archive Press found the book at a barn sale in Massachusetts, read it, and contacted Alfau after a friend had found his telephone number in the Manhattan phone book. The novel's second incarnation was modestly successful, but Alfau refused payment, instructing the publisher to use the earnings from Locos to fund some other unpublished work. When Steven Moore asked if he had written any other books, Alfau produced the manuscript for Chromos, which had been resting in a drawer since 1948. Chromos, a comic story of Spanish immigrants to the United States contending with their two cultures, went on to be nominated for the National Book Award in 1990.
Alfau also wrote a book of poetry in Spanish, Sentimental Songs (La poesía cursi), written between 1923 and 1987 and published in a bilingual edition in 1992; and a book of children's stories, Old Tales from Spain, published in 1929.
Locos, Chromos and Old Tales from Spain were translated into Spanish and published in Spain during the 1990s.
His last years were spent in an octogenarian nursing home in New York, thanks to an indigent pension granted by the city council. Felipe Alfau died in New York in 1999.
Dawn Powell knew him in the late 1930s and described him thus in her diaries: "Felipe Alfau, brilliant, dazzling mind, witty, Jesuitical, a mental performance similar only to Cummings, but a scholar—erudite, fascinating, above all a romantic about his Spain, fiercely patriotic, a figure out of a medieval romance, a lover of Toledo, of old Spain, valuable surely to his country—talked so brilliantly of Totalitarianism that is based on human weakness, human error, human conduct, that it almost convinced me."
- Old Tales from Spain. Illustrated by Rhea Wells. Garden City-New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1929.
- Locos: A Comedy of Gestures. New York: Farrar & Rinehart Inc., 1936.
- Locos: A Comedy of Gestures. Preface by F. A. Afterword by Mary McCarthy. Champaign-London: Dalkey Archive Press, 1988.
- Chromos. Introduction by Joseph Coates. Dalkey Archive Press, 1990.
- Sentimental Songs. La poesía cursi. Bilingual edition. Translated with an introduction by Ilan Stavans. Dalkey Archive Press, 1992.
- Steven Moore, "Recalled to Life," Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring 1993): 245-47.
- The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931-1965, ed. Tim Page (Steerforth Press, 1995), p. 156.
Media related to Felipe Alfau Mendoza at Wikimedia Commons
- About the author on the Dalkey Archive Press web page
- Felipe Alfau with Steven Moore (4th photo down) and ms. of Chromos
- Interview with Felipe Alfau at the Wayback Machine (archived September 29, 2007)
- Felipe Alfau: A Retrospective
- Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.