He was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature in 2017

Adam Zagajewski , the prestigious Polish poet and novelist, winner of the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature, died at the age of 75 this Sunday when the afternoon was already on its way to an end.

Zagajewski was one of the most interesting and respected authors in contemporary Polish literature. Son of Europe, witness to a twentieth-century full of horror and uprooting, he was a seeker of beauty in a devastated continent. His luminous and penetrating poems are imbued with a deep commitment to history, art, and life.

Poet, novelist, essayist, and translator, he was a man of slow gestures and a calm voice, under which, however, flowed a river of firm convictions. The jury that awarded him the Princess of Asturias then highlighted that his work “confirma el sentido ético de la literatura

Born in Lwów, present-day Ukraine, on June 21, 1945, his family soon moved to the city of Silesia (Poland), where he grew up. In 1963 he settled in Krakow, at whose university he studied Philosophy and Psychology. In the 1970s he joined the group of Polish dissidents ‘Teraz’ and two years later he published his first collection of poems, ‘Komunikat’ (Communiqué), which was followed by the novel ‘Cieplo zimno’ (Hot and cold, 1975).

Together with his compatriot  Julian Kornhauser he  wrote the manifesto ‘Swiat nieprzedstawiony’ (‘A world not represented’, 1974). It is the time when Zagajewski published his ideas in the underground magazine ‘Zapis’, one of the main media of the Polish democratic opposition. In fact, in 1975 he published a collection of poems with a clear political message, ‘Sklepy miesne’ (Butchers), and in subsequent years it was censored by communist Poland.

Ideology and poetry

In an interview with ABC in 2017, he acknowledged: “In communist times, I had experience with actual censorship and that is not the situation that we have, fortunately, today in Poland. In the communist era, we had a kind of preventive censorship, the publication of certain types of literature was not allowed. In this sense, Zagajewski was the main representative of the ‘generation of 68’, made up of politically committed authors, and created two of the slogans of this group: ‘Powiedz prawde’ (Tell the truth) and ‘Mow wprost’ (Speak clearly).

In 1982 he moved to Paris, where he published, the following year, the novel ‘Cienka kreska’ (Stroke) and the essay ‘List. Oda do wielosci ‘(Letter. Ode to plurality 1983). Shortly after, his essay ‘Solidarnosc i samotnosc’ (Solidarity and Solitude) arrived in bookstores, in which Zagajewski presented his thesis on the political commitment of writers. In 1988 he settled in the United States, where he worked as a professor at the University of Houston (Texas). In his next book of poems, ‘Plótno’ (1990), his evolution towards poetic contemplation is observed, close to mysticism, and far from his initial combative poetry.

«You have to distinguish between ideology and philosophy. Every writer, every poet, has his own philosophy, but poets are not ideologues . Poetry is opposed to ideology. As a young man, I fought ideology with my poetry, that was the beginning of my path as a poet, but I soon got bored with that attitude. Now I fight ideology with articles, essays, but not with poetry. Literature does not need ideology because it is the defense of humanity. Ideology limits freedom and, therefore, goes against the human and poetry, “he assured ABC in this regard in the aforementioned interview.

Since 2002 he has lived in Krakow (Poland), although he frequently traveled to the United States, where he taught at the University of Chicago. Author of poems such as “Celebrate the world even though it is mutilated”, he is situated within the “small poetic group that, without closing its eyes to tragedies, also wants to somehow celebrate life.  

His poetic production includes ‘Ir a Lvov’ (1985), ‘Lienzo’ (1990), ‘Tierra del fuego’ (1994), ‘Desire’ (1997) , ‘Anhelo’ (1999), ‘Regreso’ (2003 ), ‘Antenas’ (2005) and ‘Mano invisible’ (2009). His essay books include ‘Solidarity and loneliness’ (1982), ‘Two cities’ (1995), and ‘In defense of fervor’ (2002). In 2017, its publisher in Spain, Acantilado, published the essay ‘Reread Rilke’ in our country.

In addition to the Princess of Asturias, throughout his long career, his work has won awards such as the Kurt Tucholsky (1985), the PEN Club de France (1987), the Vilenica (1996), the Tranströmer (2000), the one that awarded by the Konrad Adenauer Literary Foundation (2002) and the Neustadt (2003).

Amelia Warner– After graduating from NYU with a master's degree in history, She was also a columnist for many local newspapers. Amelia Warner mostly covers Entertainment topics, but at times loves to write about movie reviews as well.

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