Ramón José Sender, whose full name is Ramón José Sender Garcés, was born in the village of Chalamera de Cinca, in the Aragonese province of Huesca, on February 3, 1901. His father was town clerk of both Chalamera and the nearby town of Alcolea de Cinca. Both his parents’ families had long-standing roots in Alcolea, and the Sender family returned there in 1903, moving next to Tauste (Aragon) in 1908 or 1909. A composite of both Alcolea and Tauste can be recognized as the scene of three of the author’s finest novels, A Man’s Place, Crónica del alba, and Requiem for a Spanish Peasant. His deep attachment to his native region and pride in his Aragonese heritage never left him.
From his earliest years, Sender rebelled against the authoritarian attitude of his father, a strict Catholic whose efforts to force his views upon the future novelist seem to have been decisive in determining Sender’s lifelong rebellion against the existing order of things, including his rejection of the Roman Catholic Church. Sender’s attitude of rebellion and protest is evident in all of his writings, both journalistic and literary. His protests against the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1927 led to his imprisonment for three months in Madrid, an experience that he novelized in O. P.
Difficulties with his father apparently led to Sender’s being sent to a Catholic boarding school in Reus (Catalonia) for the academic year 1913-1914, a year that forms the basis for his novel Violent Griffin, which later became the second of the three parts of the first volume of his monumental three-volume autobiographical novel Crónica del alba. Only volume 1 of the series has appeared in English translation (as Before Noon: A Novel in Three Parts, 1957), and its first part initially appeared separately under the same title as the series—Chronicle of Dawn.
From 1914 to 1917, Sender attended the Institute of Zaragoza. During the next school year, he worked as a pharmacy clerk in Alcañiz while meeting, through special arrangements with the Institute of Teruel (in Teruel), the remaining requirements for his high school diploma. During the next three years, from 1918 to 1921, he worked on the editorial staff of La tierra, a small newspaper in Huesca published by the Association of Farmers and Ranchers of Upper Aragon.
Upon his return in 1924 from fourteen months of service in the Spanish army in the ill-fated Moroccan War, Sender joined the editorial staff of the prestigious liberal newspaper El sol in Madrid. Following the success of his first novel, Pro Patria, Sender left El sol to devote himself full-time to freelance journalistic writing and to writing novels. During the next six years, he published six novels in addition to nearly two hundred articles in the newspaper La libertad and numerous articles in Solidaridad obrera, the organ of the Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (National Labor Federation) in Barcelona.
During the Spanish Civil War, Sender served in the republican army, rising to the rank of comandante (major). His wife was executed by Nationalist forces in Zamora on October 10, 1936. Late in 1938, Sender, seeing that the republican cause was hopeless, fled to France and from there to Mexico City in March of 1939. From Mexico, he entered the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1946 and remaining in the United States until his death in 1982.
From 1947 until 1963, Sender was a professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; from 1965 until 1971, he was a visiting professor of Spanish literature at the University of Southern California. Upon retirement in 1971, he moved to San Diego, California, where he lived until his death.
Sender remained an outspoken enemy of the Nationalist regime in Spain, and it was not until June of 1974 that he returned to his native land, his first visit since his self-imposed exile in 1938. During this three-week stay, he was warmly received and highly praised by the Spanish literary community.