Enrique Vila-Matas

Portrait Enrique Vila-Matas
© Hartwig Klappert

Enrique Vila-Matas, born in Barcelona in 1948, is one of the best-known and most renowned of contemporary Spanish writers. He studied law and journalism, worked as an editor on the film journal »Fotogramas« and lived in Paris for two years (1974–1976). He originally wanted to become a film director; in his early twenties he had already made two short films. While he felt an early connection to verse, his interest in literature in general was first stimulated when he began writing himself.

His first book arose during his military service in the Spanish exclave Melilla. A poetic monologue in an »Écriture automatique« style, it was published in 1973 under the title »Mujer en el espejo contemplando el paisaje« (1973; tr:Woman in Mirror Contemplating the Landscape). Vila-Matas’s literary breakthrough – at the international level as well – came with »Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil« (1985; tr: Short History of Portable Literature). Using anecdotes, fragments and philosophical commentary, he tells the story of Shandy, a secret society supposedly founded in 1924, numbering Marcel Duchamp, Federico García Lorca and Walter Benjamin among its members along with other renowned artists of the time. Central to Shandy was a belief in artworks which could be easily transported in a suitcase. Among Vila-Matas’ prize-winning and much-discussed novels are »Dublinesca« (2010). It centres on Riba, a onetime publisher from Barcelona, passionate reader and melancholic, who follows a dream and sets out on a pilgrimage to Dublin to follow in the footsteps of his beloved James Joyce. Countless literary references are woven into the novel with skill and ingenuity so that once again literature itself represents the focal point. Vila-Matas’ extensive works, which along with novels include numerous short stories, essays, columns and articles, are distinguished by a masterful interleaving of varying textual levels and the interweaving of metaliterary reflections. His works often blur the boundaries between essay and fiction. »When I write, I am exercising freedom, every genre is available to me, it’s all part of the armoury I have for writing,« says the author.

Vila-Matas’ works have been translated into 32 languages and awarded numerous prizes, including the 2001 Premio Rómulo Gallegos and the prestigious Prix Médicis for the best foreign novel in France, in 2003. The author belongs to the Orden del Finnegans, whose members are committed to veneration of Joyce’s masterpiece »Ulysses«. Enrique Vila-Matas lives in Barcelona.