In the Spanish-speaking world, he was considered a towering figure of Latin American letters. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author, once described his friend Mr. Mutis as “one of the greatest writers of our time.”
Mr. Mutis was credited with imbuing his poetry and fiction with the evocative sensuality, mysticism and imagination that characterized many of the most lauded works in Spanish-language literature.
By the end of his life, Mr. Mutis had received prestigious literary honors including the Prince of Asturias Award and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize. But for years he had gone undernoticed in Latin America — and almost entirely unnoticed elsewhere — as he pursued a workaday, if successful, business career.
He worked in Colombia as a public relations manager for Standard Oil and later in Mexico as a sales manager with 20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures. Among other curiosities, he provided the voice-over for the Spanish-language version of the TV crime drama “The Untouchables.”
Mr. Mutis sold re-run broadcast rights in Latin America to programs such as “Punky Brewster,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Fantasy Island.”
He once remarked that he wrote his early works “under the most absurd circumstances — hotels, airports, bars” — until he retired from Columbia Pictures at 60.
“Without this rambling career,” the novelist John Updike wrote in the New Yorker magazine, “how could he have supplied the eerie wealth of maritime and dockside details, the delirious abundance of geographic and culinary specifics, that give fascination and global resonance to his novella-length tales of Maqroll?”
Maqroll — whose name was intended to reveal no particular nationality — was born in one of Mr. Mutis’s early poems. The character grew into a full-fledged literary hero through his appearances in novellas: tales that included such escapades as a jaunt through a Peruvian gold mine, management of a brothel and an encounter with a tramp steamer.
His works were known to English-language readers mainly through the translations of Edith Grossman and most notably “The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll,” which was published by the New York Review of Books in 2002.
That volume contained seven novellas, translated as “The Snow of the Admiral,” “Ilona Comes With the Rain,” “Un Bel Morir,” “The Tramp Steamer’s Last Port of Call,” “Amirbar,” “Abdul Bashur, Dreamer of Ships” and “Triptych on Sea and Land.”
Writing in the publication World Literature Today, Grossman described Maqroll as “a knight errant with a duffel bag over his shoulder and a watch cap on his head, whose only home is the road he travels.”