Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films; he has published over 100 plays, 14 novels, 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artist’s books; several essays, and his notorious “Letter to General Franco” during the dictator’s lifetime. His complete plays have been published in a number of languages, in a two-volume edition totaling over two thousand pages. The New York Times theatre critic Mel Gussow has called Arrabal the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”
In 1962 Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, inspired by the god Pan, and was elected Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de Pataphysique in 1990. Forty other Transcendent Satraps have been elected over the past half-century, including Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard.
A friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara, Arrabal spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group.
Fernando Arrabal (Terán is his second family name) is son of the painter Fernando Arrabal Ruiz and Carmen Terán González. On July 17, 1936, when insurrections within the military were staged against the constitutional government of the five-year-old Second Spanish Republic, launching the Spanish Civil War, Fernando Arrabal’s father remained faithful to the Republic. As a result, he was sentenced to death for mutiny. His sentence was later commuted to thirty years’ imprisonment. Fernando Arrabal Senior was transferred between prisons, from Santi Espiritu in Melilla to Monte Hacho in Ceuta, where he attempted suicide, as well as Ciudad Rodrigo and Burgos. Finally, on December 4, 1941, he was sent to the Burgos Hospital, on the pretext of being mentally ill. Later research has implied that he feigned psychological illness in order to be transferred to a lower security prison. On December 29, 1941, Fernando Arrabal Senior escaped from the hospital in his pyjamas, despite three feet of snow covering the countryside. He was never seen again, despite extensive researches carried out years later.
His son Fernando Arrabal has written: “Without trying to compare what is incomparable, when I confront these twilight episodes (and quite often without any logical connection), I often think of that scapegoat, my father. The day on which the Uncivil War began, he was locked up by his “compassionate companions” in the flag room of the Melilla military barracks. He was meant to think carefully, since he risked a death sentence for mutiny if he did not join them in their insurrection (alzamiento). After an hour, Lieutenant Fernando Arrabal summoned his ex-comrades – already! – to inform them that he had pondered long enough. Today, because of this precedent, must I serve as witness, example, or symbol, as he did, of the most fundamental occurrences? I, who am a mere exile. If I am taken away from my beloved numerics, everything around me leads to over-the-counter confusion and disorder. I have no wish to be a scapegoat like my father, I only ask to die while still living, whenever Pan so wishes.”
Meanwhile, in 1936, Arrabal’s mother returned to Ciudad Rodrigo with little Fernando, and soon found a job at Burgos, then the capitol of the Nationalists and headquarters of General Franco’s government. In 1937 Fernando was enrolled in a local Catholic school until 1940, when after the end of the Civil War, his mother moved again, to Madrid.
In 1941, Fernando Arrabal was awarded the national prize for gifted children. He continued his studies at Las Escuelas Pías de San Antón, a church school whose distinguished pupils over the years also included Victor Hugo and Jacinto Benavente y Martínez. Later Arrabal also studied at another distinguished Madrid establishment, Colegio Padres Escolapios De Getafe. An avid reader, young Arrabal was also eager to experience life.
In 1947, when his mother ordered him to attend preparatory classes for entrance to the Academia General Militar, Arrabal reacted by playing hooky. As a result, in 1949 he was sent to Tolosa (Guipuzcoa) where he studied business at the Escuela Teórico-Práctica de la Industria y el Comercio del Papel. By 1950, he began to write several plays which have remained unpublished.
In 1951 began work in the paper industry at la Papelera Española. He moved to Valencia where he passed his bachillerato, the first non-compulsory educational option in Spain for those wishing to go on to university. He later moved to Madrid, where he began legal studies. During these years he frequented the venerable cultural institution Ateneo de Madrid as well as poets from the Postismo school, while polishing his early play “Picnic” (then titled “The Soldiers”) and wrote “El triciclo” ( at first titled “Men With a Tricycle.”).
In 1954 he hitchhiked to Paris in order to attend a performance of Brecht’s “Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder” given by the touring Berliner Ensemble. in Madrid later that year he would meet Luce Moreau, who became his wife. In 1955 he was awarded a three months’ scholarship to study in Paris, during which time he lived at the Colegio de España at the Cité Universitaire. At this time he suffered a serious relapse of tuberculosis. He always considered this ailment as a “lucky mishap” which allowed him to move permanently to his “veritable homeland, that of Kundera and Vives, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Picasso: exile.”
Arrabal is often considered as anti-franquist and anti-communist, instead expressing an anarchist trend in cultural production. Actually, he appeared to be in good relationship with the Communist Party of Spain during his exile. A breaking off seems to have occurred in 1977 for reasons close to his professional activity. In particular, a conflict concerning the performance of his play The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria in Barcelona, involving artists reputed to be close to the Communist Party, seems to have been at the origin of the rupture.
Although he is one of the most controversial writers of his time, Arrabal’s work has been recognized throughout the world, with honors including the Grand Prize for Theatre of the Académie Française, the Premio Mariano de Cavia for journalism, the Nabokov Prize for novel writing, the Espasa Prize for Essay Writing, and the World Theater Prize.
In 2001, he was runner-up for the Premio Cervantes, nominated by Nobel Prize in Literature Camilo José Cela and José Hierro. He was reportedly a finalist for the Nobel Prize in 2005, a prize which several institutions and personalities solicited for him. On July 14, 2005, he was named to France’s Légion d'honneur. In 2007 he was awarded a doctorate of letters Honoris Causa by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.
His other honors include:
- Premier Prix International Théâtre du Millénaire
- "Hijo adoptivo de Ciudad Rodrigo" (Spain)
- "Ciudadano de honor" Erlanger (Germany)
- "Fronteira do Pensamento" with Bob Wilson, Wim Wenders, Philip Glass and Bernard Henri Levy. Porto Alegre (Brazil)
- Prix Spinoza (Festival Teranova)
- Doctor Honoris Causa. Thessalonique (Greece)
- Max de Honor, Teatro (Spain)
- Prix Pasolini, cinéma (París)
- Gran Prix d’Interprétation (Festival de Quend, film : « Avida »)
- Citoyen d’honneur de Spa (Belgium)
- Clés de la ville de Fontenay (France)
- Arrabal was decorated with the French Legion of Honor on July 14, 2005.
- Checa Association of Film Directors Prize. René Char Gold Medal, Avignon Festival.
- First Panic Award, International Book Fair (Brussels)
- Francisco de Vitoria Prize (Puerto Rico)
- Wittgenstein Prize (University of Murcia)
- National Literary Award (Spain)
- Gold Medal of San Fando (Buenos Aires)
- 2002: Gold Medal of the City of Avignon
- National Theatre Award 2001 (Spain)
- 2000: National Literary Prize (Spain)
- 1999: Alessandro Manzoni Poetry Prize (Italy)
- 1998: Prize of the Society of Authors (France)
- 1995: Officer of Arts and Letters (France)
- 1993: Theatre Prize of the Académie Française
- Since 1990, Arrabal has held the honorary title of "Transcendent Satrape" in the College of ’Pataphysics (Collège de ’Pataphysique). This group, founded in 1948 in homage to the French author Alfred Jarry (1873–1907) has named previous Transcendent Satrapes (“transcendents satrapes”) such as Camilo José Cela, René Clair, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, M. C. Escher, Eugène Ionesco, Michel Leiris, Man Ray, The Marx Brothers, Joan Miró, Jacques Prévert, Raymond Queneau, and Boris Vian. After Arrabal received this honor, other Transcendent Satrapes have been named, including Roland Topor, Umberto Eco, and Dario Fo.
- 1986: Fine Arts Gold Medal of the Ministry of Culture (Spain)
- 1983: Chevalier of Arts and Letters (France)
- In 1982 Arrabal received the Nadal Prize, for "La torre herida por el rayo"
- 1976: Obie Award for Theater (New York)
- 1965 Lugné-Poë Theatre Prize (France)
- 1959: Ford Foundation Award with Italo Calvino, Hugo Claus, Charles Tomlinson, Günter Grass and Robert Pinget (New York)