R. A. Lafferty
Lafferty in his library in 1998
Lafferty in his library in 1998
BornRaphael Aloysius Lafferty
(1914-11-07)November 7, 1914
Neola, Iowa, U.S.
DiedMarch 18, 2002(2002-03-18) (aged 87)
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story author
GenreScience fiction, Fantasy
Notable worksOkla Hannali, Past Master, Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Raphael Aloysius "R. A." Lafferty (November 7, 1914 – March 18, 2002) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer known for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure,[1] Lafferty also wrote a set of four autobiographical novels, a history book, and several novels of historical fiction.


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Lafferty was born on November 7, 1914, in Neola, Iowa to devoutly Catholic parents, Hugh David Lafferty, a broker dealing in oil leases and royalties, and Julia Mary (née Burke), a teacher. He was born the youngest of five siblings. His first name, Raphael, derived from the day on which he was expected to be born (the Feast of St. Raphael). When he was 4, his family moved to Perry, Oklahoma.

He graduated from Cascia Hall,[2] and came of age in the early years of the Great Depression. He later attended night school at the University of Tulsa for two years starting in 1933, mostly studying Math and German, but left before graduating. He then began to work for Clark Electric Co. in Tulsa and, during this period (1939–42), he attended the International Correspondence School.

Lafferty lived most of his life in Tulsa with his sister, Anna Lafferty. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. After training in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and California, he was sent to the South Pacific Area, serving in Australia, New Guinea, Morotai, and the Philippines. When he left the Army in 1946, he had become a 1st Sergeant serving as a staff sergeant and had received an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.[3] He never married.

Lafferty did not begin writing until the 1950s, but he wrote thirty-two novels and more than two hundred short stories, most of them at least nominally science fiction. His first published story was "The Wagons" in the New Mexico Quarterly Review in 1959. His first published science fiction story was "Day of the Glacier", in The Original Science Fiction Stories in 1960, and his first published novel was Past Master in 1968.[4]

Until 1971, Lafferty worked as an electrical engineer. After that, he spent his time writing until around 1980, when his output declined due to a stroke. He stopped writing regularly in 1984.[5]

In 1994, he suffered an even more severe stroke. He died on March 18, 2002, aged 87 in a nursing home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. His collected papers, artifacts, and ephemera were donated to the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Other manuscripts are housed in the University of Iowa's Library special collections department.[6]

Lafferty's funeral took place at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tulsa, where he regularly attended daily Mass. He is buried at St. Rose Catholic Cemetery in Perry.[2]

Selected works

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Lafferty's quirky prose drew from traditional storytelling styles, largely from the Irish and Native American, and his shaggy-dog characters and tall tales are unique in science fiction. Little of Lafferty's writing is considered typical of the genre. His stories are closer to tall tales than traditional science fiction and are deeply influenced by his Catholic beliefs; Fourth Mansions, for example, draws on The Interior Mansions of Teresa of Avila.

His writings, both topically and stylistically, are not easy to categorize. Plot is frequently secondary to other elements of Lafferty's writing. While this style has resulted in a loyal cult following, it causes some readers to give up reading his work. Not all of Lafferty's work was science fiction or fantasy. His novel Okla Hannali (1972), published by University of Oklahoma Press, tells the story of the Choctaw in Mississippi, and after the Trail of Tears, in Oklahoma, through an account of the larger-than-life character Hannali and his large family. This novel was thought of highly by the novelist Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), who on the back cover of the edition published by the University of Oklahoma Press, writes "The history of the Choctaw Indians has been told before and is still being told, but it has never been told in the way Lafferty tells it ... Hannali is a buffalo bull of a man who should become one of the enduring characters in the literature of the American Indian." He also wrote, "It is art applied to history so that the legend of the Choctaws, their great and small men, their splendid humor, and their tragedies are filled with life and breath."

Lafferty's work is represented by Virginia Kidd Literary Agency,[7] which holds a cache of his unpublished manuscripts.[5] This includes over a dozen novels, such as In The Akrokeraunian Mountains and Iron Tongue of Midnight, as well as about eighty short stories and a handful of essays.[8]


Science fiction




Short stories

Awards and recognition

Lafferty received Hugo nominations for Past Master, "Continued on Next Rock", "Sky", and "Eurema's Dam", the last of which won the Best Short Story Hugo in 1973 (shared with Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's "The Meeting").[10]

He received Nebula Award nominations for "In Our Block", "Slow Tuesday Night", Past Master, Fourth Mansions, "Continued on Next Rock", "Entire And Perfect Chrysolite", and The Devil is Dead. He never received a Nebula award.[5]

His collection Lafferty in Orbit was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and in 1990, Lafferty received a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. His 1992 collection Iron Tears was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.[5] In 2002, he received the Cordwainer Smith Foundation's Rediscovery award.[11]

The Oklahoma Department of Libraries granted him the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.[12]

Fourth Mansions was also named by David Pringle as one of his selections for Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels.

Writing style

"[Once a] French publisher nervously asked whether Lafferty minded being compared to G. K. Chesterton (another Catholic author), and there was a terrifying silence that went on and on. Was the great man hideously offended? Eventually, very slowly, he said: 'You're on the right track, kid,' and wandered away."[13]

In his 2006 short story collection Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman includes a short story called "Sunbird" written in the style of Lafferty. In the introduction, he says this about Lafferty:

There was a writer from Tulsa, Oklahoma (he died in 2002), who was, for a little while in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the best short story writer in the world. His name was R. A. Lafferty, and his stories were unclassifiable and odd and inimitable -- you knew you were reading a Lafferty story within a sentence. When I was young I wrote to him, and he wrote back.
"Sunbird" was my attempt to write a Lafferty story, and it taught me a number of things, mostly how much harder they are than they look....[14]

Gaiman and Lafferty had corresponded for several years during Gaiman's adolescence; he remembered Lafferty's letters as "filled with typical cock-eyed Lafferty humour and observations, wise and funny and sober all at once."[15]

Per the Science Fiction Encyclopedia:

"He has fairly been described as a writer of tall tales, as a cartoonist, as an author whose tone was fundamentally oral; his conservative Catholicism has been seen as permeating every word he wrote (or has been ignored); he has been seen as a ransacker of old Mythologies, and as a flippant generator of new ones; he clearly delighted in a vision of the world as being irradiated by conspiracies both godly and devilish, but at times paid scant attention to the niceties of plotting; he has been understood by some as essentially light-hearted and by others as a solitary, stringent moralist; he was technically inventive, but lunged constantly into a slapdash sublime only skittishly evocative, and only occasionally, of anything like the traditional Sense of Wonder; his skill in the deploying of various rhetorical narrative voices was manifest, but these voices were sometimes choked in baroque flamboyance... He and Gene Wolfe have more than a shared faith in common."[16]


In March 2011, it was announced in Locus that the copyrights to 29 Lafferty novels and 225 short stories were up for sale.[17][18][19] The literary estate was soon thereafter purchased by the magazine's nonprofit foundation, under the auspices of board member Neil Gaiman.[20]

Further reading


  1. ^ Gene Wolfe wrote in an introduction to Episodes of the Argo that "[Lafferty may be] the most original writer in the history of literature"; Michael Swanwick has written that "if there were no Lafferty, we would lack the imagination to invent him" (quoted on the back cover of the original edition of Lafferty in Orbit); Neil Gaiman said that "[Lafferty's] stories are without precedent"; and Harlan Ellison wrote that "Lafferty defies categorization; his work is unlike anyone else's".
  2. ^ a b "Sci-fi author R.A. Lafferty rites set", Tulsa World, March 21, 2002. Accessed March 31, 2010.
  3. ^ Awards, perscom.army.mil. Accessed October 1, 2022.
  4. ^ "Rafael A. Lafferty, 87, Science Fiction Writer". The New York Times. March 29, 2002. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d "R.A. Lafferty (1914–2002), Locus, May 2002, p.9, 68.
  6. ^ "Lafferty, R.A (Raphael Aloysius)". ArchivesSpace at the University of Iowa. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  7. ^ "Virginia Kidd (1921–2003)" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Paul Di Filippo reviews R.A. Lafferty". March 18, 2016.
  9. ^ "Title: The World as Will and Wallpaper". www.isfdb.org. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  10. ^ [1] Archived 2013-01-20 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "R. A. Lafferty, winner of the 2002 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award".
  12. ^ "OK Dept. Of Libraries – working to preserve history, expand knowledge, and enrich lives".
  13. ^ From an SFX magazine column by David Langford; issue #92, June 2002.
  14. ^ Introduction to Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman, William Morrow Publisher (2006), pg. xxvii
  15. ^ "Lafferty", Neil Gaiman, Locus, May 2002, pg. 68.
  16. ^ "Lafferty, R.A.". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 2023. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  17. ^ "SF Signal: SF Tidbits for 3/3/11". Archived from the original on 2011-03-07. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  18. ^ Lafferty estate for sale, sfsite.com. Accessed October 1, 2022.
  19. ^ Profile, locusmag.com. Accessed October 1, 2022.
  20. ^ "Lafferty Lost and Found | This Land Press - Made by You and Me". Retrieved October 1, 2022.
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