2nd International Conrad Festival in Kraków

The second International Joseph Conrad Festival started yesterday in Kraków and for the second year running is putting Kraków on the map of international literature. Its impressive program features writers Herta Müller, László Krasznahorkai, Rabih Alameddine, Amos Oz, Marijane Satrapi, and Andrzej Stasiuk, as well as filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, theater director Krystian Lupa, musician Mikołaj Trzaska, scholar Walter Benn Michaels, and many other remarkable authors, artists, and scholars.

Named for the great Polish-born English-language novelist Joseph Conrad (Józef Konrad Korzeniowski), the festival conceives itself explicitly as a celebration of otherness and of international perspectives. I would guess that a corrective of a certain provincialism is implied as well — the festival is, as far as I know, the first one of this scope to be launched in Poland, and one of its stated missions is to “expose the Polish reader to little-known ways of thinking and sensibilities.”

As cosmopolitan as it is, however, the festival is also distinctly Polish and presents the best of Polish culture. Yesterday’s first event highlighted the genre of literary reportage, which has a particularly illustrious pedigree in Poland. Titled “The Geography of Violence,” the panel was hosted by journalist Olga Stanisławska (author of the reportage Rond-Point de Gaulle) and featured French journalist Jean Hatzfeld (whose book The Antelope’s Strategy was awarded the first Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage earlier this year) and Swedish reportage author Sven Lindqvist.

And the festival makes good use of Kraków’s compact urban topography, even as it inscribes a new layer onto the city’s literary-historical palimpsest. Following the reportage panel, which took place at the Solski Theater Academy across from the Jagiellonian University’s main building, there was an opening for the Liberature exhibit a few blocks away at the Wyspiański Pavillion on Plac Wszystkich Świętych. Liberature is an experimental literary/theoretical movement founded by Zenon Fajfer and Katarzyna Bazarnik that considers literature from the standpoint of the book (liber) as the primary unit of the artistic message. Historical examples of “liberary” literature include Mallarmé’s Un coup de des (which was recently re-translated into Polish by the poet Tomasz Różycki incidentally), Raymond Queneau’s Oulipian work Cent Mille Milliards de poèmes, as well as B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates (also recently translated into Polish by Bazarnik) and, I imagine, Tom Phillips’s A Humument. The publishing house Korporacja Ha!Art has published a number of Fajfer and Bazarnik’s theoretical writings as well as the Mallarmé and Johnson works just mentioned.

The center of festivities shifted over to Podgórze, on the other side of the river, for the next event of the evening: a concert with the amazing clarinetist Mikołaj Trzaska (who performed with Joe McPhee a few years ago in New York and Chicago following the launch of their CD Intimate Conversations) and the certainly no-less praiseworthy author Andrzej Stasiuk, who was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York last April and who has another book forthcoming with Dalkey Archive Press next year (the story collection Dukla, translated by Bill Johnston).

Back on the main square, Klub Pod Baranami hosted the final event of the festival’s first day: Iranian-French graphic novelist Marijane Satrapi presented her 2007 film Persepolis, which follows an Iranian girl as she grows to adulthood against the backdrop of historical events in Iran. And a public discussion with Satrapi and festival co-organizer Grzegorz Jańkowicz is taking place today (probably even as I’m writing this) at the International Culture Centre.

Today’s other events include a reading by Ewa Kuryluk, a discussion with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai and Polish artist Mirosław Balka, a lecture by Walter Benn Michaels, a panel on women’s literature hosted by WAB publisher Beata Stasińska, and a screening tonight of Wojciech Has’s The Saragossa Manuscript, introduced by Rabih Alameddine, the Lebanese-American author whose celebrated novel The Hakawati has just been published in Polish translation by Znak.

The Conrad Festival is one event for which I really wish I could be in Kraków. But here I am in far-off Brooklyn and can only imagine the attendees scuttling across the city from one venue to another, stopping off in Nowa Prowincja for a kawę białą along the way, and no doubt ending up at Dym to continue the conversation over a round (or more) of Okocim or Carlsberg.

One aspect of the festival this year that I would be eager to hear accounts of is the focus on Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan. Their very interesting correspondence was recently published in German (and is now available in English); and the festival features among other things a discussion of Celan’s piece “Conversation in the Mountains” as well as a film screening of Michael Haneke’s first feature film, an adaptation of Bachmann’s story Three Paths to the Lake.

(But since I can’t be there, I gladly welcome comments or accounts from anyone who happens to be reading this and is.)

Tomasz Różycki wins “Top Quark” prize for PEN America blog post

Tomasz Różycki wins the 3 Quarks Daily 2010 “Top Quark” Prize in Art and Literature for his post on his poem “Scorched Maps” on the PEN America blog. Judged by US poet laureate emeritus Robert Pinsky, the prize comes with a $1000 award; and the notice of the award as well as Różycki’s acceptance “speech” (in the form of a comment) are available here. Mira Rosenthal translated both the poem and the poet’s short essay, which can be found on PEN America’s blog.

Tomasz Różycki is the author of over six books of poems in Polish and one in English, The Forgotten Keys, translated by Mira Rosenthal (Zephyr Press, 2007). The Polish Cultural Institute in New York supported his residency last fall at the Vermont Studio Center, which has this nice profile of him up on their website; and he participated in group readings and discussions last November at Poets House’ in New York and at Harvard University.

Kapuściński, the Award, and the Biography

The Ryszard Kapuściński Award for literary reportage was established and announced last month, on the third anniversary of the author’s death, by the City of Warsaw and Poland’s largest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. As the Polish Book Institute reports:

The award will be given on a yearly basis to the finest piece of literary reportage published in book form in the Polish language. The goal of the competition is to pay posthumous tribute to Ryszard Kapuściński, a resident of Warsaw for over 60 years, through this distinction and the promotion of the most valuable works of reportage, which take up important problems of contemporary life, prompt reflection, and increase our knowledge of the world of other cultures.

The winner will be awarded 50,000 zł, and should the award be given to a foreign-language writer, the Polish translator will also be given an award (15,000 zł.). The first winner will be declared in May of this year.

* * *

This is not the only recent news about Kapuściński. The reporter Artur Domosławski, author of several books of reportage on North and South America, recently finished a biography of the renowned Polish journalist, Kapuściński Non-Fiction: The Man, the Reporter, and His Times, which is to be published by Świat Książki next month. Kapuściński’s widow, Alicja, who is the patron of the City of Warsaw / Gazeta Wyborcza award, has filed a civil suit demanding that the book be banned from distribution.

Evidently the manuscript was earlier turned down by Jerzy Illg, the publisher of Wydawnictwo Znak, who had commissioned it, though not for the reason conjectured by the increasingly Fox-Newsy newspaper Rzeczpospolita — i.e. the old hat about Kapuściński’s links to the Polish secret service — but because, as Illg told a Polish AP journalist, “Rysiek was my friend, and I wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye if I were to publish a book like that.” Świat Książki maintains that the nearly 600-page book will be released on March 3rd.

So what is all the fuss about? From Domosławski’s comments on his blog, it sounds like there’s not much to it:

My book reveals quite a few things and tries to explain a lot, but it is not some cheap attempt to unmask its subject. Those who expect me to examine Kapuściński’s life and pass judgment on his involvement in Communist Poland will be surprised at how I defend him. Those who are waiting for stories from the gutter will be disappointed… I think a lot of people will be amazed that anyone would want to take a book like this to court.

Of course, no writer is ever completely objective about his own work; and the epitaph to the book – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life” – sounds like nothing so much as an invitation to pry. Domosławski, who was one of Kapuściński’s protegés and as a friend of the family was given access to his private archive, evidently violated Alicja Kapuścińska’s trust and her expectations for her husband’s legacy.

At the same time, from his own statements and the several reviews that have so far appeared, it seems that he wrote the book in good faith and strove for objectivity about his subject. In a review posted two days ago (“The Dark Side of the Icon”), blogger Sergiusz Pinkwart describes Domosławski as “Kapuściński’s beloved adopted son” — counterpart to the “heir-apparent,” Wojciech Jagielski — and as having been “able, like no one else, to talk competently with Kapuściński about his great obsession: poverty and social exclusion in the third-world.” Pinkwart also recounts some of the less-than-rosy elements of the biography: Kapuściński had affairs; did indeed collaborate with the Polish secret service; and made things up in his books. But while those things may be understandably problematic, and not just for the family, none of them strikes me as unexpected or even so terribly alarming, not even the single new bit of information, i.e. the affairs.

What is probably even more troubling for a lot of people in Poland is that Domosławski’s biography violates Polish hagiographic conventions of fame, according to which any besmirching of a great Pole’s reputation is considered an assault on the nation. It seems that the controversy over Kapuściński’s biography is already also a debate about the way celebrity is constructed in Polish culture. As Andrzej Stasiuk wrote in his blurb for the book:

Domosławski follows his trail, attempts to get at the truth, and is unconcerned about some people’s desire for yet another Polish saint. Thankfully this book is not a hagiography, rendering its subject a kind of mental eunuch. Poles love to worship images like that, because they don’t demand anything from them, just a little national fatuousness for the tickling.

The biography will no doubt also play a part in the ongoing debate in Poland about the communist past, just as that debate has evidently influenced Domosławski’s approach. In a review posted yesterday on his blog, the reporter Wojciech Orliński describes how Domosławski “conducts… a cross-examination” in the book. A few years ago, Polish Newsweek reporters suggested that Kapuściński was being let off the hook for his involvement with the Polish secret service and suggested that he would have fared differently in America (the gold standard, of course): “After all, in the USA, if it came to light that a renowned, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist had collaborated with the CIA, he would be discredited at once in the eyes of his readers,” they insisted. According to Orliński, Domosławski was sceptical and interviewed a number of American journalists to find out what they thought; and they provided “any number of scenarios, both real and hypothetical,” that call into question the Newsweek reporters’ speculation.

I for one look forward to reading Domosławski’s biography; and I imagine that if it does end up released in Polish, it won’t be long before English-language readers will be able to read it, too.

Found in Translation Award nomination, Deadline January 31st

If you haven’t yet made your nomination, please read further and send your email in by this Sunday!

Found in Translation Award 2010

The Book Institute reminds that 31st of January is the deadline for submitting nominations for Found in Translation Award.

The Award was announced 2 years ago by the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and W.A.B. Publishing House in Warsaw.

The Found in Translation Award is presented annually to the translator or translators of the best translation into English of a work of Polish literature published as a book in the previous calendar year.

The Award consists of a three-month placement in Krakow, with accommodation, a grant of 2,000 PLN per month, a return airline ticket to Krakow funded by the Polish Book Institute and a financial award of 10,000 PLN funded by the W.A.B. Publishing House.

The Award is presented by a Selection Committee consisting of representatives of the Polish Book Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute in London and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. The Director of the Polish Book Institute is the President of the Selection Committee.

The name of the winner is announced during the award ceremony, which is organised each year in the winner’s country of origin, if possible during that country’s International Book Fair.

Candidates for the Award can be nominated by both private persons and institutions in Poland and abroad.

Nominations should be sent to the Polish Book Institute, 31-011 Kraków, ul. Szczepańska 1, Poland, e-mail office@bookinstitute.pl with the subject-heading FOUND IN TRANSLATION.

The nomination must include the book title, the name of the author, the name of the translator, the publisher, and the reasons for the nomination. The deadline for submitting nominations is midnight on January 31 each year.

Previous award winners: Bill Johnston (2008) for NEW POEMS by Tadeusz Różewicz (Archipelago Books, USA); Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2009) for THE LAST SUPPER by Paweł Huelle (Serpent’s Tail, UK).

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel longlisted for Best Translated Book Award

Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel, translated by Bill Johnston, has just been longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Fiction nominees were announced two days ago on the Three Percent blog and include some formidable competition: Robert Walser’s The Tanners, trans. Susan Bernofsky (Switzerland), Ferenc Barnas’s The Ninth, trans. Paul Olchváry (Hungary), Abdourahman Waberi’s The United States of Africa, trans. David and Nicole Ball (Djibouti), Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Anonymous Celebrity (trans. Nelson Vieira (Brazil), César Aira’s Ghosts, trans. Chris Andrews (Argentina), Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, trans. Martha Tennent (Spain/Catalonia), Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, trans. David Colmer (Netherlands), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future, trans. Joanne Turnbull (Russia), and many other remarkable works. I have to say I’m a little disappointed that El Salvadoran author Horacio Castellanos Moya’s The She-Devil in the Mirror (trans. Katherine Silver) didn’t get nominated, but that’s because I’m currently reading it and think it’s great. Also, I really wish Gombrowicz’s Pornografia (trans. Danuta Borchardt) had been selected: Three Percent might have reinterpreted its rule against retranslations inasmuch as this is actually the first translation from the original… But what to do.

The award, which is in its second year, has been getting oodles of attention in the British and international press, with articles in The Guardian, the Independent, Bookseller.com, and places farther afield; but as Open Letter publisher Chad Post pointed out today on his Facebook profile, U.S. publishing media have been weirdly quiet about it — probably, as subsequent comments suggest, because the news hadn’t been routed to them by a publicist…

Anyway, this year the award has been cleaved in two, evidently to reflect our two literary genders: you know, fiction and poetry. There’s no longlist for poetry, but its shortlist will be announced, along with the fiction shortlist, on February 16th. Unfortunately, the human gender balance doesn’t come off so equitably: of 25 nominated authors, 3 are women. Well. (The 28 translators, on the other hand, are split evenly.)

It would be interesting, of course, to know what the jury’s criteria are in nominating and awarding, and hopefully that will be expressed in some form during the awards ceremony this spring. Until then, hopefully, Jerzy Pilch is in some amazing company. Congratulations all around.

After Kapuściński: Institute of Reportage (InstytutR) opens in Warsaw

The Polish Instytut Reportażu has just opened in Warsaw, established in response to a couple of problems that are hardly limited to Poland: dwindling financial resources for investigative journalism and the need to train new generations of reporters. Wojciech Tochman, author of Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia (Portobello / Atlas & Co., 2008), Mariusz Szczygieł, winner of the Prix AMPHI and the Europe Book Prize for his book Gottland, and Paweł Goźliński, Head of Gazeta Wyborcza‘s reportage section, are the founders and make up the Board. Joanna Czudec, formerly of the Book Institute in Kraków, has just moved to Warsaw to become its Director. And there is an Advisory Board that includes Wojciech Jagielski, author of Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya (Seven Stories, 2009); Alicja Kapuścińska, widow of Ryszard Kapuściński; and Hanna Krall, author of The Woman From Hamburg and Other True Stories (Other Press, 2005), among other books in English. These are all absolutely fantastic people to have working together, and this is an exciting project that will no doubt go a long way to securing the future of journalism in Poland, hopefully with effects in other countries as well.

I took the liberty of translating the Institute’s mission statement:

Why an Institute of Reportage?

“We know too little about too much.”

There are various ways for people to gain more knowledge.
One way is reportage.

It was invented to provide as many people as possible with knowledge about other people.
To enable as many people as possible to understand another person.

So, since Polish reportage (and Polish literary journalism likewise) is our passion…

And since Polish reportage is rather expensive, and reporters, publishers, and editorial boards are less and less able to cover the costs of fieldwork…

Since more and more young people are interested to learn journalism, but have no one to teach them…

Since there has thus far been no central resource for information about Polish reporters and their writing…

Since more and more often we hear how it is reportage, not novels or films, that has most accurately described what has happened in Poland and the world since the fall of communism, and that a lot of journalistic writing could easily be adapted for the theater…

And since Warsaw itself seems to us to provide such excellent material for reporters…

We have established here, in Warsaw, the Institute of Reportage, which aims to do everything possible to make full sentences out of those dependent clauses above.

Sentences, and an assignment. For the coming years.

Since we know too little about too much (as Ryszard Kapuściński, the greatest representative of our vocation, writes in Travels With Herodotus), we need to support reportage. Because the more we know about the world around us, the better, safer, and more stimulating our lives will be.

Paweł Goźliński, Mariusz Szczygieł, Wojciech Tochman
Founders, InstituteR

Known in brief as InstytutR, the institute has a website up that features extensive information on recent and upcoming journalism-related events; the program for its year-long course in journalism (an impressive syllabus that involves a three-day intensive block course every month, with classes taught by Goźliński, Krall, Szczygieł, and Tochman, along with other well-known Polish reportage authors like Agata Tuszyńska, Jacek Hugo-Bader (whose reportage on Russia, White Fever, has just been bought by Portobello in the UK), and Lidia Ostalowska; as well as information on books, radio and theater tie-ins, and photoreportage. So far the website is only available in Polish. But an English-language version is in the works, so make sure to check back for it.

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Why an Institute of Reportage? —

“We know too little about too much.”

There are various ways for people to gain more knowledge.

One way is reporting.

It was invented to provide as many people as possible with knowledge about other people.

To enable as many people as possible to understand another person.

So, since Polish reportage (and Polish literary journalism likewise) is our passion…

And since Polish reportage is rather expensive, and reporters, publishers, and editorial boards are less and less able to cover the costs of fieldwork…

Since more and more young people are interested to learn journalism, but have no one to teach them…

Since there has thus far been no central resource for information about Polish reporters and their writing…

Since more and more often we hear how it is reportage, not novels or films, that has most accurately described what has happened in Poland and the world since the fall of communism, and that a lot of journalistic writing could easily be adapted for the theater…

And since Warsaw itself seems to us to provide such excellent material for reporters…

We have established here, in Warsaw, the Institute of Reportage, which aims to do everything possible to make full sentences out of those dependent clauses above.

Sentences, and an assignment. For the coming years.

Since we know too little about too much (as Ryszard Kapuściński, the greatest representative of our vocation, writes in Travels With Herodotus), we need to support reportage. Because the more we know about the world around us, the better, safer, and more stimulating our lives will be.

Paweł Goźliński, Mariusz Szczygieł, Wojciech Tochman
Founders, InstituteR

Interview with Pornografia translator Danuta Borchardt on PRI’s The World

Danuta Borchardt talks with Bill Marx on PRI’s December World Books podcast about Witold Gombrowicz and her experience translating not just the recently published Pornografia, but Cosmos and Ferdydurke as well. She mentions the possibility of retranslating Transatlantyk and translating his Peregrinations in Argentina (excerpts of which have been published in Words without Borders). The informative half-hour podcast is downloadable and definitely worth a listen (ideally with a crackling fire in the background, snowdrifts and fir trees outside the window, and a mug of mulled wine or cider in hand… Happy Holidays!).

Special Polish literature offer from Archipelago!

Don’t pass up this stunning holiday offer from Archipelago Books: All 5 of their Polish literature titles for only $45, shipping included. That’s almost 50% less than their total retail price. Seriously folks, Polish books haven’t been this affordable since 1989. Here’s what you’ll get:

Translated by the genial Bill Johnston and beautifully produced by Archipelago, these books are already classics of Polish literature in English. Click here for descriptions. To order, please email the publisher directly at: info @ archipelagobooks . org or from their contact page. If you’re not already familiar with Archipelago’s work, a perusal of their website and catalogue is definitely worth while. Also, please consider making a donation to Archipelago, so that more great literature from around the world can find its way to English-language readers.

(Addendum, 29 December 2009: this intriguing Croatian blog just posted a useful compendium of brief reviews and responses to Tulli’s three books with Archipelago: http://zorosko.blogspot.com. I had no idea of the resonance she’s had among U.S. poets, especially. Other authors whose reception is likewise digested include Schulz, Pessoa, Gert Jonke, Merce Rodoreda, Abdourahman Waberi, and James Tate — an eclectic and delightful canon.)

Holiday Books!

If you’re still looking for the perfect gift for that special Polish-literature-and-culture enthusiast in your life (or for yourself for that matter), then look no further than this list of new fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, academic, and children’s books!


Paweł Huelle
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Serpent’s Tail, December 2009
Paper, 256 pp., $14.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Winner of the 2009 Found in Translation Award!

Set in Gdańsk in the near future, twelve men have been invited to model for a modern, photographic version of The Last Supper, but their meeting is disturbed as a terrorist attack paralyzes the city…

“Huelle’s erudite writing bestows a mordant wit on even the weightiest subject matter… his prose has an other-worldly quality.” – Financial Times

Witold Gombrowicz
translated by Danuta Borchardt
Grove Press, November 2009
Cloth, 176 pp., $23.00

Indiebound / Amazon

First translation directly from Polish of this modernist masterpiece!

“Gombrowicz’s strange, bracing final novel probes the divide between young and old while providing a grotesque evocation of obsession.” – Publishers Weekly

“As terrifying as the characters are in their calculation, Gombrowicz’s agile pen dilutes the tragedy with a lightness that only the best can master.” – Salonica World Lit

Jerzy Pilch
translated by Bill Johnston
Open Letter Books, April 2009
Cloth, 155 pp., $15.95

Indiebound / Amazon

A recovering alcoholic, just back from the alco ward, spies a beautiful woman outside his window one day. What follows is a stylistically brilliant, postmodern diary of addiction, recovery, and love…

“Pilch’s prose is masterful, and the bulk of The Mighty Angel evokes the same numb, floating sensation as a bottle of Żołądkowa Gorzka.” – L Magazine


edited by Words without Borders
Open Letter, November 2009
Paper, 231 pp., $15.95

Indiebound / Amazon

The Wall in My Head is an exciting anthology of texts and images by writers and artists who witnessed the collapse of Communism firsthand and by those who grew up in its wake. The collection features Polish authors Zbigniew Herbert, Paweł Huelle, Ryszard Kapuściński, Dorota Masłowska, and Andrzej Stasiuk, along with a host of others, including Mircea Cărtărescu, Milan Kundera, and Dubravka Ugresić.

“Personal recollection and reflection can provide readers with a deeper understanding of an event. This anthology of mostly Eastern European fiction, essays, images, and historical documents… does this exceptionally well.” – Library Journal

Wojciech Jagielski
translated by Soren Gauger
Seven Stories Press, October 2009
Paper, 352 pp., $19.95

Indiebound / Amazon

“[Towers of Stone] brings to life the danger, squalor and misery of daily life in Chechnya with almost unbearable clarity.” – The Economist

“Wojciech Jagielski has already achieved recognition for his reporting from the most inflamed points on our globe. [This latest work] will only confirm his reputation.” – Ryszard Kapuściński

Andrzej Stasiuk
translated by Bill Johnston
Dalkey Archive Press, September 2009
Paper, 176 pp., $13.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Andrzej Stasiuk travels to places no tourist would think of visiting, and in this characteristically lyrical book of travel essays, lays out his own unique and challenging perspective on the fascinating, unknown heart of Central Europe.

“Stasiuk, exploring a region that so many have assumed to be irresistibly converging with the West, has mapped what Freud might have called its ‘genetic memory.'” – Benjamin Moser, Harper’s Magazine

by Wojciech Tochman
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Atlas & Co., September 2008
Cloth, 176 pp., $20.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“In the spare and bleak Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia, the Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman chronicles the aftermath of war in Bosnia and, if anything, confirms that the so-called peace has brought little actual peace. Yet he is not polemical about this point; instead, he relies on suggestive details, pungent quotes and simple, understated prose.” – The New York Times


Ewa Lipska
translated by Robin Davidson & Ewa Elzbieta Nowakowska
Northwestern University Press, November 2009
Paper, 96 pp., $18.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Surreal, skeptical, and laced with wit, Ewa Lipska’s poetry, like that of Miłosz and Szymborska, achieves a hard-won and gracefully wielded authority, combining an awe of beauty with a skepticism of language’s ability to ameliorate human experience. This book brings her work to readers in a fresh, new English translation.

Juliusz Słowacki
edited and translated by Peter Cochran, Bill Johnston, Miroslawa Modrzewska, and Catherine O’Neil
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, November 2009

Indiebound / Amazon

This volume provides new translations of three works by one of Poland’s most important Romantic authors, Juliusz Słowacki: the popular play Balladina, the meditative poem Agamemnon’s Tomb, and the hilarious mock-epic Beniowski. An informative introduction by Peter Cochran is included.

Janusz Szuber
translated by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough
Knopf, May 2009
Cloth, 112 pp., $26.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“Careful, profound and much celebrated in Poland, Szuber seems the logical heir, in some ways, of Czeslaw Miłosz…. [representing] not the new voice of postcommunist Poland, but the last flowering of the world-class lyric gifts – allegorical, pious, careful, self-estranged — that grew up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain.” – Publishers Weekly

“Szuber’s poetry speaks to the hard part of the soul.” – Zbigniew Herbert

Julian Kornhauser
translated by Piotr Florczyk, with a foreword by Adam Zagajewski
Marick Press, April 2009
Paper, 75 pp., $14.95


A major figure in Polish poetry, Kornhauser started his career in the New Wave movement of the 1970s with Adam Zagajewski, Stanisław Barańczak, and Ryszard Krynicki. This long-overdue selection from his recent poetry is his first book to appear in English.

“I’m amazed by the continuity of [Kornhauser’s] writing, by the honesty of his poetry, by his patient worship of the concreteness of the world.” – Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski
translated by Clare Cavanagh
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, February 2009
Paper, 128 pp., $14.00

Indiebound / Amazon

“Poetry and thinking for Zagajewski have to do with learning how to see clearly. His poems celebrate those rare moments when we catch a glimpse of a world from which all labels have been unpeeled.” – Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

by Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki
Bilingual edition, translated by Bill Johnston
Zephyr Press, November 2008
Paper, 148 pp., $14.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Tkaczyszyn-Dycki is one of Poland’s most original and important younger poets. Trained by twin muses, Thanatos and Eros, his is a voice at once resonant of the long European tradition of elegy, rooted in regional (Ukrainian) folk traditions, and alive to contemporary Polish reality. Winner of the 2009 NIKE Award, Poland’s most prestigious literary prize.

by Julia Hartwig
translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter
Knopf, March 2008
Cloth, 160 pp., $25.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Hailed by Czesław Miłosz as “the grande dame of Polish poetry,” Julia Hartwig has long been considered the gold standard of poetry in her native Poland. With this career-spanning collection, we finally have a book of her work in English.

“For all her topical interest Hartwig is finally a poet of enduring consolation, measured reassurance and scenic clarity.” — Publishers Weekly


edited by Daniel Gerould
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications, November 2009
Paper, 411 pp., $20.00

TCG Bookstore

This first multi-author international anthology of Eastern European plays to appear in English includes Sławomir Mrożek’s Portrait, as well as plays by Karel Steigerwald, Gyorgy Spiró, Matei Vişniec, and Dušan Jovanović.

Gabriela Zapolska
edited and translated by Teresa Murjas
Intellect Books, October 2009
Paper, 192 pp., $30.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Gabriela Zapolska (1857-1921) was an actor, journalist, and one of Poland’s foremost modernist playwrights. In over thirty plays, she uncompromising explorer of gender construction and class oppression in fin-de-siècle Poland. This informative collection of groundbreaking plays and scholarly essays on them by Teresa Murjas will introduce an English-speaking audience to Zapolska’s important work.


by Jarosław Anders
Yale University Press, April 2009
Cloth, 224 pp., $35.00

Indiebound / Amazon

In this insightful book, Jarosław Anders looks at how the major works of 20th-century Polish literature constantly transformed historical experience into the metaphysical, philosophical, or religious exploration of human existence.

“If Anders’s essays do not aspire to a complete play-by-play of Polish literature’s last century, they at least offer the most focused and entertaining highlights reel I’ve seen.” – Benjamin Paloff, The Nation

by Roman Koropeckyj
Cornell University Press, November 2008
Cloth, 549 pp., $45.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), Poland’s national bard, was one of the extraordinary personalities of the age. Roman Koropeckyj draws a portrait of the Polish poet as a quintessential European Romantic. This richly illustrated biography – the first scholarly biography of the poet to be published in English since 1911– draws extensively on diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and the poet’s literary texts to make sense of a life as sublime as it was tragic.

Alex Storozynski
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Press, April 2009
Cloth, 384 pp., $29.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817) was a hero of both the American Revolution and the Polish independence movement, a champion of the abolition of slavery, and a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. This definitive and exhaustively researched biography fills a long-standing gap in historical literature with its account of this dashing and inspiring revolutionary figure.

“…a sweeping, colorful, and absorbing biography that should restore Kosciuszko to his proper place in history.” – Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek

Rulka Langer
Aquila Polonica, September 2009
Cloth, 468 pp., $29.95

Indiebound / Amazon

First published in 1942 by the Polish emigre publishing house Roy, Rulka Langer’s memoir is finally available again in this new, illustrated edition.

“An unusual take on WWII … a rare eyewitness account of the war’s early, chaotic days – the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Siege of Warsaw and the first few months of Nazi occupation – written by Rulka Langer, a civilian, a young Polish career woman and mother and a graduate of Vassar College.” – Publishers Weekly

Jonathan D. Bellman
Oxford University Press, October 2009
Cloth, 219 pp., $40.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Chopin’s Second Ballade, Op. 38 is frequently performed, yet remains very poorly understood – disagreement prevails on issues from its tonic and two-key structure to its posited relationship with the poems of the great Romantic bard Adam Mickiewicz. Chopin’s Polish Ballade is a reexamination and close analysis of this famous work, revealing the Ballade as a piece with a powerful political story to tell.

“Ingenious, entertaining, and convincing – Jonathan Bellman’s book deftly demonstrates how the study of a single piece of music can open a new window onto an entire cultural world.” – Kenneth Hamilton

edited by Paul Allain
Seagull Books, November 2009
Cloth, 224 pp., $29.00

Indiebound / Amazon

Jerzy Grotowski (1933–99), considered one of the most important and influential theatre practitioners of the 20th century, was a Polish stage director, theatrical theorist, and founder and director of the famous Polish Laboratory Theatre. Most of Grotowski’s theater-making took place in this and similar small theaters and studio spaces, and as a result one of his central fascinations was the actor’s work within the context of an empty room. The essays in Grotowski’s Empty Room analyze how Grotowski’s explorations in the theater continue to challenge dramatists and directors.

Elżbieta Matynia
Paradigm Publishers (Yale Cultural Sociology Series, October 2009
Paper, 216 pp., $28.95

Indiebound / Amazon

Spanning Polish history from the days of incipient rebellion against Communist rule through the Solidarity movement of the 1980s to today’s democratic Poland, Performative Democracy sheds new light on what it is people are doing when they act democratically. Even as Matynia, who participated in many of the events she describes, elucidates their common features, she captures and infectiously renders their exhilarating atmosphere and spirit to the reader. – Jonathan Schell

Jonathan Webber
photographs by Chris Schwarz
Indiana University Press, October 2009
Paper, 192 pp., $27.95

Indiebound / Amazon

In this remarkable album, 74 stunning color photographs bear witness to the great Jewish civilization that once flourished in Polish Galicia. Captions and detailed notes explain and contextualize the photographs. An invaluable sourcebook.

“A moving account of what is being done to preserve the memory of what was lost and of the people, both Poles and Jews, involved in this important undertaking.” – Antony Polonsky


by Michał Rusinek
translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, 2009
Cloth, 32 pp., $21.95

Polish Arts Center

This children’s book tells the story of little Frycek Chopin in rhymed verse, with full-color illustrations by Joanna Rusinek. A wonderful gift for the budding musician or composer in your family!

Miron Białoszewski: “An explosion in American poetry!”

More news from The Quarterly Conversation (which I’m considering making my homepage): editors Scott Esposito and Annie Janusch surveyed over 40 translators, writers, and editors as to what books and or authors they feel most urgently need to be translated into English. The results are wondrous to behold and I hope will have some very direct effects. For his choice, poet, translator, and Words without Borders poetry editor Ilya Kaminsky selected Miron Białoszewski (1922–1983)—the second (after Leśmian) most difficult-to-translate Polish poet, whom Benjamin Paloff dubbed the “holy grail of Polish translators” at Poets House last month, and who indeed needs urgently to be represented in English, and not just by his poetry. Well, there is interest; but who knows from what quarters it will happen and when. At any rate, the whole “Translate This Book!” survey can be downloaded as a pdf and is both worthwhile and necessary reading. In the meantime, here’s some of what Kaminsky has to say:

Poems of Miron Białoszewski is the book I hope to one day hold in my hands. A great post-war Polish poet, Białoszewski wrote work radically different from that of his contemporaries—Miłosz, Świr, Kamieńska, Herbert, and Szymborska—but his poetry was just as powerful and important to the development of the contemporary European lyric … When I mentioned [him] to Tomaž Šalamun in a recent conversation, Tomaž’s face lit up: “Białoszewski, when he is translated and available in English, will cause an explosion in American poetry!” One hopes so.

The ignition for that explosion may take place very soon, in fact. The next issue of the excellent poetry magazine Aufgabe will feature a special section on innovative Polish poetry, guest edited by Mark Tardi and due out this spring. From what I’ve heard, it will include a sizeable number of Białoszewski’s poems, both newly translated and reprinted from the 1974 volume translated by Bogdan Czaykowski and Andrzej Busza.