Raphael Aloysius Lafferty was born on November 7, 1914, in Neola, Iowa. With 2014 rung in, that makes it officially Ray’s centennial year—a chance to reflect on and celebrate his legacy.
Already two landmarks are planned for publication in 2014 or just after: the first volumes of the Centipede Press series that will eventually reprint all of Lafferty’s previously published short stories, and (God willing) my own biography in Illinois’ Masters of Modern Science Fiction series. There are also likely to be panels on Lafferty at Worldcon in London (August 14–18), the World Fantasy Convention in Washington, DC (November 6–9), and possibly Readercon in Burlington, MA (July 10–13).
Beyond that though, the centennial is a chance to think about how to ensure that his work will be read throughout the 21st century and beyond. Probably you have your own ideas, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments. But here’s my hopes, in no particular order other than maybe potential likeliness and the scale of ambition involved:
- a big fat Best of Lafferty, along the lines of the recent Gene Wolfe compendium, with authors and high-profile fans providing introductions to their personal favorites—something very like this is in the works and should be out before too many years go by;
- a compilation of the major critical statements on Lafferty to date. I’ve been collecting pieces (and am always looking for more!) toward such a volume for a couple of years now, and have talked with a couple potential publishers; it would become the starting point for Lafferty research, indispensable for those inside and outside genre—if all continues well, this will be one of the first projects I turn to after finishing my dissertation, in maybe two years’ time;
- critical versions of the novels, going back to the manuscripts and all published versions to establish authorized texts—some of these are likelier than others, in particular Space Chantey and Fourth Mansions, but all of them have a chance of appearing eventually;
- publication of the huge reserves of unpublished material, especially the novel Esteban, and the remaining volumes of the Dana Coscuin tetralogy and the In a Green Tree series, as well as the strongest of the short stories, like “The Hand of the Potter: An Idyll” and “The Rod and the Ring”—a few of these will trickle out over time; the bulk will have to wait for a big push to get everything out;
- a volume of Lafferty’s letters, since he was as lively in correspondence as he was in storytelling. Of particular importance are those between Lafferty and his agent, Virginia Kidd, but selected others of his exchanges with editors, fans, translators, and fellow authors would also be a great boon—I’d love to edit this, but it’s a longer-term project with trickier permissions;
- a full, complete, and I think most importantly, digital Lafferty. This would include every word in every edition, from all the manuscripts with their alterations, to all the different publications with their variants, linked to all the relevant notes and extracts from correspondence and reviews to show as minutely as possible the development of each work from conception and composition to completion and reception. That the project be digital is important because of the greater ease of switching between versions, comparing texts, and storing all the apparatus that makes such a thing worthwhile (and, likely, possible)—this is a lifelong project and goal, and it would require coordinating a large group of interested supporters funding the work as well as a small, dedicated team to do it all.
That’s my list, anyway. And while some of it is pretty far-fetched, it wouldn’t be a truly Laffertian project if there weren’t a few impassible obstacles in the way. After all, it’s already against the odds that things have progressed from Lafferty’s near-total obscurity at the turn of the century, to the cusp of a revival today—may it continue, and amplify further! And may this centennial year prove the one that cements his reputation as an American literary great.