Fernández Molina, Antonio

Antonio Fernández Molina has written a great portion of his books by hand, with marker and quill, on recycled paper, in the atmosphere of a tavern. He has very small eyes, squinted, like a late bohemian. Arm in arm with his wife, Josefa, a hidden heroine that gave him their six daughters. Wearing a hat, and almost always dressed in linen and cotton suits, he belongs to the sentimental landscape of Zaragoza: he is the iconoclast and pugnacious wiseman that comes and goes, conversing here or making an apologia of exceptionality there: for him, exceptional is Dalí’s writing —‘I vouch that Dalí is one of the best Spanish writers of all time. You must read The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí’—, Honorio García Condoy’s sculpture, Lorca’s drawings, ‘…that helped me become an artist. They moved me, freed me from insecurities, and allowed me to draw and paint’, or Arrabal’s theatre and ideas, who considers our interlocutor one of his mentors and one of the authors of Spain’s panic movement.

‘I do not like to speak about my childhood. I suffer a great deal when remembering: I became an orphan when I was seven. And that impacted me. I have always, always, deep down, felt like a helpless child. My father died of something stupid: a mere colic. He studied Teaching and ended up becoming a Republican policeman. I was born by chance in Alcázar de San Juan, but he was from Casa de Uceda. He was the town’s smart child. One time, during nap time, he was with my grandfather near the front door when a pedlar passed by, carrying all types of trinkets, among them an alphabet primer. My grandfather, a forward-thinking and intelligent farmer with a modest fortune, bought it, and during the next day’s nap he realised my father had learned the primer all by himself.’

‘What memories do you have of him?’

‘Practically none. His name was Antonino; he was tall, one of the tallest in the town, slim, good-looking and elegant. My mother, Teodomira, was short but very beautiful. Widowed at 25 or 26, she married after the war. They made an odd couple. Wait. I remember that I had to have my tonsils removed and my father took me by the hand. I did not want to open my mouth and they could not make me do it, until they put a device on me that operated with a crank. So, I finally opened it. I also recall that due to my father’s profession we went from one place to another: we lived in Valencia, in Alcoy, and I believe that in Alicante and Albacete, too; we often travelled by train and I remember they tried to sell us the famous Albacete pocket knives.’

‘You once said you had been a rebellious, almost untameable child.’

‘Listen, I had a literary, artistic, and poetic sentiment about things. I valued things more for their emotional value than for their intrinsic ones. I remember that in school in Alcoy the children played in sandpits sinking nails; since I did not have any, but was so fascinated by the game, I made a deal with one of the boys: I would steal my father’s watch and exchange it to him for a nail. Finally, the deal fell through. What an idiot!’

‘How was the Civil War?’  

‘Although it may sound strange, I had a good time. When my mother was widowed, we moved to Madrid, where she had a younger brother studying medicine. He was quite bohemian and very left-wing; he brought me along to all the rallies. We barely had any money. I think my grandfathers helped us: on my mother’s side, a doctor, and on my father’s side, a farmer. I never knew my grandmothers. I remember seeing Quevedo Street covered in pasquinades, near the Puerta del Sol. I took the pasquinades and drew and wrote on the back.’

‘What did you write?’

‘Literary works, none. I drew most of all. This is why I still like to write my novels or poems on used paper. In Madrid we heard the bombings, night after night; we went down to the basement and stayed in the corridor. You could hear the bombs dropping close by. When the shortage came, we moved to the village, and fortunately in Casa de Uceda we had an idilic life. Cannons could be heard from time to time, but the front stood 30 kilometres from the village. Occasionally some neighbours took water and provisions for them. We had a lot of freedom; sometimes school was off, they used to mix boys and girls together, because the teacher had been called up. And we knew the war was over when the red berets came to announce it.’

‘They called you The Poet.’

‘No, no. That concept was unknown in my village. I was called that later, in the Brienda de Mendoza de Guadalajara Institute, because they saw me reading and writing texts. We had a good library at school and at home because one of my father’s suitcases appeared, and being the literature enthusiast he was, it was full of books by Dostoyevski, Tolstoi, and Chejov. At school, I drove our teacher up the wall, I was the mischievous one, until she discovered she could appease me with books such as Flor de Leyendas (Flower of Legends) by Alejandro Casona and others. She used to tell me: ‘Antonio, start reading’, and that is how she tamed me very quickly. (…) For some time I went to Guadalajara’s State Public Library every day, which was my refuge. I read and read non-stop, and sometimes I took out a book. One day the librarian approached me and said: ‘We have given you the award for Best Reader in the province’. And he showed me a list of book titles to choose from.’

Fernández Molina founded Doña Endrina in 1951, a poetry and art magazine, an ‘exercise of vocation and passion, but also of madness and stupidity’. Through the magazine, in which he published a poem by Miguel Labordeta in its first issue, he got in contact with the Aragonese writer: ‘We began writing to each other, and one day I took a train, arrived in Zaragoza, and went to his house. I came and went from Guadalajara, and gave recitals at his school; Miguel facilitated seminars and shows in the city for me, and one day, when he decided to found Despacho Literario (Literary Office), he named me Editor-in-chief’. Another key figure was Camilo José Cela. Antonio had met him at a dinner in Guadalajara, in the Palace Hotel; he, who could not afford the 25 pesetas the dinner cost, arrived when the desserts were served, he was offered a coffee, and he read a poem. From then on, their relationship kept intensifying, and, in 1964, the author of La Familia de Pascual Duarte named him secretary to organise his library, his formidable magazine collection, and to manage Papeles de Son Armadans, which he had worked on for nearly two years preparing the monograph dedicated to Silverio Lanza.

‘I stayed in Mallorca with Cela from 1964 to 1972. I was young, I had written poetry books, but I had several novel drafts in my drawer, among them Solo de Trompeta (Trumpet Solo). It can be said that in the island I established myself as a writer of prose, novels, and short stories. I also established relationships with many people from all over Spain and Latin America. One of my greatest friends at that time was Alejandra Pizarnik, the Argentinian poet. (…) I owe Camilo José Cela, among many things, a noble piece of advice. He used to tell me: ‘Look, Poet (he always called me that, even now), you do not have it easy because what you do is impractical. But if you wake up early, at eight for example, you will see that the work always pays off.’

Fragments of an interview conducted by Antón Castro and published in El Periódico on 25 July 1999. Portrait of the author by Josefa Echeverría.



I love my grandpa very much, I like being around him and helping him read all the books in his house.

He also helps me: with my homework and my studies. I have a lot of fun with him, he takes me to many places: exhibitions, conferences, museums, flea markets, and also Vips.

What I like the least about him is that he is always arguing with my grandma Josefa and he gets cross when someone leaves something with his books and stuff.

On the other hand, my grandpa is great. When my cousin Candela and I are together he always takes us to get ice-cream or gives us one of his hundreds of books or a drawing he makes on bar napkins, and if it is a cloudy day he takes us to the cinema.

My grandpa comes to visit me every Sunday and when my parents are gone he comes to stay with me until my dad comes back from work.

My grandpa loves eating because when he was young he went through the war and was very hungry.

My grandpa was born in Alcázar de San Juan but has lived in Zaragoza for many years. He currently lives with my grandma Josefa, his daughter Isabel, his daughter Ester, his granddaughter Candela, and of course, with the thousands of books and paintings that no longer fit in the house.

He has two more daughters in Zaragoza: María Elena and my mother Teresa, and another two who live in Logroño and Guadalajara.

I do not know what else to say, so I will say goodbye. But first I want to tell you that my grandpa is the best grandpa in the world and I am not saying it to brag, he really is.