Felipe Alfau (1902-1999) was a Catalan-born American poet and novelist. 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 14 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 2 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 others' 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 finding his telephone number in the Manhattan phone book. The novel's 2nd 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successful, but Alfau refused payment, instructing the publisher to use the earnings from Locos to fund some other unpublished work.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 2 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 90's.
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.
- Sentimental Songs = La poesía cursi (translated by Ilan Stavans). Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1992.
- Locos: A Comedy of Gestures. New York: Farrar & Rinehart: 1936.
- (with preface by Alfau & afterword by Mary McCarthy). Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1988.
- Chromos (with introduction by Joseph Coates). Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1990.
- Old Tales from Spain (illustrated by Rhea Wells). Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1929.
- About the author at Dalkey Archive Press
- Felipe Alfau: A retrospective at Barcelona Review, 1999
- A Conversation with Felipe Alfau, 1993
- Interview with Felipe Alfau
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