Surprisingly, Federico García Lorca is Spain’s most frequently translated author. Remembered mainly as a poet and dramatist he was also a painter of some distinction and an accomplished pianist and composer. He was born in 1898 and was just 38 years old when he was killed by members of the fascist group Falange just one month into the Spanish Civil War – shot dead for being a communist sympathiser and a homosexual.
There is a wonderfully impressive biography of Federico García Lorca entitled “Lorca – a Dream of Life” which is written by the American author Leslie Stainton. The book re-assesses the life and works of a man who perhaps became more of a symbol than a truly appreciated artist. Lorca’s writings are significant because of their social context but also stand scrutiny because of their literary content – and this has been somewhat obscured because of the impact of his story.
Newcomers to Lorca’s writings should look for:
- Romancero Gitano – The Gypsy Ballads
- Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias – Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter
- Poeta en Nueva York – Poet in New York
In addition, the following three plays are highly recommended:
You’ll see why Lorca’s poetry has been highly praised for its rhythms and linguistic creativity and why as a playwright he has been likened to Brecht because of his themes and experimental stage techniques.
The Life of Lorca
Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, a small town about 15km from Granada and lived as ‘a rich boy in a little village’ with his land-owning father and school teacher mother. The village is in an area of Granada known as La Vega, a green plain watered by snows from the Sierra Nevada and Lorca, although he had a morbid fear of drowning, grew up as a ‘modest dreamer and son of the water’.
Fuente Vaqueros was, according to Lorca, a ‘pleasant, modern, earthy and liberal village’ and the street in which he was born has now been renamed as Calle Poeta García Lorca. His former home is now a fascinating small museum with a collection of photographs and manuscripts and across the street is a monument to the poet. The rest of the town is typical of the area around Granada with little of interest to tourists although, not surprisingly, there is a “Bar Lorca” in town.
The family moved into Granada itself in 1909 and Lorca spent his teenage years here, becoming widely known in the artistic circles of the city. When he moved to Madrid ten years later he became a member of the famous ‘Residencia de Estudiantes’ where he met Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (with whom he would have both an artistic and a romantic relationship).
Many summers were spent at Cadaqués on the Costa Brava with Dalí and his family and, although his artistic talents were developing, his personal insecurities were never far away. His parents arranged for him to spend time in America, especially New York, and he also visited Havana where the city’s main theatre is named in his honour. Lorca wrote that he spent ‘the happiest days of my life’ in Cuba.
Returning to Spain during the days of the Second Republic Lorca enjoyed an artistically profitable time touring with a university theatre company dedicated to taking classic Spanish plays out to the provinces. This was disbanded in April 1936 just three days before the Civil War began and he returned to his family home in Granada.
The family had in fact moved in 1926 to a house in the small district of Huerta de San Vicente – at that time just outside the city but now firmly inside its boundaries. Lorca wrote that ‘the melancholic, contemplative man goes to Granada – to be alone near the bonfires of saffron, deep gray and blotting-paper pink – the walls of the Alhambra’, which were visible from the house.
This house, in the south east of the city on Calle Arabial is now a museum. Located next to the Parque García Lorca and with its own beautiful rose garden, Lorca’s house contains all its original furniture, a sketch of Dalí – as if to confirm that, as Lorca said, ‘Dalí’s paintings will live in my house and next to my heart’ – and it really does leave the visitor feeling as if the writer has just popped out for a minute or two.
Lorca’s favourite café in Granada was then known as Alameda Café but is now called Restaurante Chikito. It is on Plaza del Campillo near Acera del Casino. Not only did Lorca spend much time here but it was also a favourite of HG Wells and Rudyard Kipling (and apparently, Diego Maradona!).
On August 19th 1936 Falangist soldiers dragged Lorca along with three other men from the café and took them to an olive grove near the village of Alfacar and shot them before throwing their bodies in an unmarked grave.
Parque Federico Garcia Lorca
The spot where the four were executed has been preserved in their memory and often people leave quotations from Lorca’s poems in the branches of the tree where the shooting is believed to have happened. A monument at the site has been erected “in memory of Federico García Lorca and all the victims of the Civil War.” Attempts in 2009 to locate and exhume Lorca’s remains were unsuccesful. The Parque Federico Garcia Lorca was built in the Arabial area of Granada in honour of the city’s most famous son.
Lorca’s writings have the passion and fire of Andalucía with a flavour of surrealism and experimentation and, irrespective of his tragic death, will surely be recognised as some of twentieth century Spain’s finest literature.