Rafael Alberti was born December 16, 1902 in Andalusia, and his nostalgia for that region pervades much of his work. His genteel family had fallen on hard times, and Alberti’s schoolmates made him painfully aware of his inferior status. In 1917, the family moved to Madrid, where Alberti devoted himself to painting in the Cubist manner, attaining some recognition. Illness forced him to retire to a sanatorium in the mountains—a stroke of luck, as it happened, for there he subsequently met such luminaries as García Lorca, Salvador Dalí, and Luis Buñuel and began seriously to write poetry. He won the National Prize for Marinero en tierra, his first volume, and thereby gained acceptance into the elite artistic circles of the day. Personal difficulties and an increasing awareness of the plight of his country moved Alberti to embrace communism. In 1930, he married María Teresa León, also a writer, and together they founded the revolutionary journal, Octubre, in 1934.
Alberti’s new political credo enabled him to travel extensively and to encounter writers and artists from all parts of Europe and the Americas. After participating actively in the civil war, he emigrated to Argentina in 1940. There, he began to write for the theater, gave numerous readings, and resumed painting. Hard work and fatherhood—his daughter Aitana was born in 1941—preserved Alberti from embittered paralysis, and his production of poetry never slackened. Indeed, many of his readers believe that he reached his peak in the late 1940’s.
In 1964, Alberti moved to Rome, where he lived until 1977, when he was finally able to return to Spain, after almost thirty-eight years in exile. He was welcomed by more than three hundred communists carrying red flags as he stepped off the airliner. “I’m not coming with a clenched fist,” he said, “but with an open hand.” He enjoyed a resurgence of popularity upon his return and proceeded to run for the Cortes, giving poetry readings instead of speeches, and won. Alberti resigned his seat after three months in order to devote himself to his art. He became a well-respected literary figure in his last two decades in Spain; the lost Andalusian had returned home. He died there on October 28, 1999 from a lung ailment; he was ninety-six years old.