Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was a Spanish writer who wrote in many genres, referring to himself as a 'journalist, novelist, poet, essayist, anthologist, prologue writer, humorist and critic', among many other things. However it is for his contribution to the world of contemporary Spanish poetry that we have decided to remember him.
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was born in Barcelona in 1939 to a modest mother while his father was a militant member of the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, a grouping of communist and socialist parties in Catalonia. However, Montalbán did not know his father until the age of 5 as his father had been in prison until then.
Manuel later studied Philosophy and Literature in the University of Barcelona, and then Journalism at the School of Journalism of Barcelona. It was here he would meet his wife, the historian Anna Sallés Bonastre. In 1962, he was sent to prison for 3 years for his activities in the anti-Franco resistance. During his time in Lérida prison, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán wrote his first book which contained the essay Informe sobre la información.
After his stretch in prison, he returned to his career in journalism at the magazine 'Triunfo' where he began writing under the pseudonym 'Sixto Cámara'. Throughout the rest of his life, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán wrote for a large number of publications including 'Siglo XX' and 'Por Favor', and later on 'El País' and 'Interviú'.
1967 was the year in which he published his first collection of poems, entitled Una educación sentimental. This collection was followed by another in 1969 called Movimientos sin éxito as well as his novel 'Recordando a Dardé' - his first real step into the narrative genre. In 1972, he published the first of a set of novels that contained his most famous main character: a private detective named Pepe Carvalho.
In 1995, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was awarded with the National Spanish Literature Prize in recognition of all of his works. Sadly, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán died in 2003 due to a heart attack while he was in Bangkok airport in Thailand. To commemorate the Spanish writer, they named a square after him which you can find if you visit Barcelona, located between calle de Sant Rafael and la Rambla del Raval. This location is very close to where the writer was born.
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán began writing as a poet in 1963, and forms part of the 9 major poets which fall under the name of the 'novísimos'. His poetry work is characterized by his sense of fun and irony, always coupled with a symbolic and critical element.
All of his previous poetry work was chronicled in the volume entitled Memoria y deseo. Poesía 1967-1983, to which he later added another section entitled Pero el viajero que huye en Memoria y deseo. Obra poética 1967-1990. After these collections, Manuel only published the collection Ciudad in 1997 and Ars Amandi in 2001 which was an anthology of his erotic poetry.
Unlike many of his counterparts in the same novísimo movement who later disregarded poetry in place of novels, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán continued to write poetry throughout his life. However, this does not mean that he disregarded novels, or any other literary genre in fact. As we mentioned at the beginning, Manuel was in fact a prolific writer in a number of genres, and he is particularly well remembered for his novels.
His most famous series were the books that included the private detective Carvalho as the main character. The Pepe Carvalho series was an expressive vehicle for the author to pass on a socio-political, historical and cultural account of Spain over the last 40 years. For example, the novel entitled Asesinato en el Comité Central tells the story of the murder of a communist leader. Written in 1981, the novel was published at a time when the Spanish communist party was caught up in the euro-communism crisis.
Some of the other novels by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán include El pianista (1985) which deals with the role of the artist in contemporary society for which he won the Recalmere Prize; Los alegres muchachos de Atzavara (1987) which is a moral study of the emerging elite Spanish classes in Spain during the latter years of the Franco dictatorship; and Galíndez (1991) which tells the story of the kidnapping of Jesús de Galíndez, a member of the Basque government in 1956 while in exile in New York. In all of his novel work though, his poetry roots can be clearly seen.