By day, Pessoa made a living as a translator. By night he wrote poetry -- but not just his poetry. He wrote poetry in the voice, style and manner of many fictional poets which have been referred to as "heteronyms." He published under several of these names, and even published, or at least composed, criticism by certain heteronyms against other of his heteronyms. Each was not just a nom de plume, but rather each was a wholly formed character with a life, passion, style and direction. Some of the heteronyms hated others. If not for the work, Pessoa might only be considered an astoundingly strange madman. But the work of the individual heteronyms each represent interesting and distinct avenues of thought, technique and artistry. Any one set of poems would at least be a significant minor achievement and have earned Pessoa a place among writers. But as a body, the achievement has earned Pessoa an ever rising position of respect and interest.
The novelty of Pessoa's project has been credited by some for his dramatic rise in popularity in the past twenty years. But others, especially Pen Award Winning translator Richard Zenith, believe that Pessoa's skill and artistry will indeed stand the test of time.
1998 Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Josť Saramago wrote a tribute to Fernando Pessoa in his 1984 book The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, in which he tries to explain what happened to Ricardo Reis (one of Pessoa's many heteronyms) after Pessoa died, in 1935. The story takes place in Lisbon, to where Reis returned after the death of his "friend" and uses characters who first appeared in Reis poems.