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Tomas Venclova  [ Lithuania ]

Biography

Portrait Venclova
Copyright Venclova / C. privat

Guest 2012, 2017.

Bibliography

Forms of Hope

The Sheep Meadow Press

Rhinebeck, 1999

Vor der Tür das Ende der Welt

Hanser

München, 2002

[Ü: Rolf Fieguth]

Vilnius. Eine Stadt in Europa

Suhrkamp

Frankfurt a. M., 2006

[Ü: Claudia Sinnig]

Gespräche im Winter

Suhrkamp

Frankfurt a. M., 2007

[Ü: Claudia Sinnig u. Durs Grünbein]

Der magnetische Norden

Gespräche mit Ellen Hinsey

Suhrkamp

Berlin, 2017

[Ü: Claudia Sinnig]

Tomas Venclova was born in 1937 in the Lithuanian harbor town of Klaipéda (formerly Memel), and studied Lithuanian studies and Russian literature in Vilnius. During longer stays in Moscow (1961–1965) and Leningrad (1969–1972) he met other writers, such as Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Ginzburg and Joseph Brodsky, and became an activist in the civil rights movement. Between 1966 and 1971, he studied semiotics and Russian literature at the Estonian University of Tartu. He then returned to Vilnius and became a lecturer in the history of literature and semiotics at Vilnius University. In 1976 he was a co-founder of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, which campaigned for the protection of human rights. In 1977 he managed to emigrate to the USA with the help of Joseph Brodsky and mediation of Czesław Miłosz, where he became a visiting professor at the University of California in Berkeley. As a result, he was stripped of his Lithuanian citizenship and was granted political asylum in America. He taught poetry and modern Lithuanian, Russian and Polish literature at Yale from 1980 until 2012, where he gained his PhD in 1985 and became a professor in 1993.

As his poems and essays were censored in his home country, most of his oeuvre originated in exile. One of his first poems »Hidalgo« was circulated in samizdat form, partly in reaction to the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. He writes: »We will never understand, why / intended for us are places and tribunes, / bullets, hangman’s nooses and armored turrets.« Venclova is doubtlessly one of the most important Eastern European poets. In his very formal poetry, he focuses on rhythm and sound, and particular qualities of the Lithuanian language. His themes are contemporary history, exile, and, of course, linguistic expression. A part of Venclova’s work has also been translated into German, including the two anthologies »Vor der Tür das Ende der Welt« (2002; tr: Outside, the end of the world) and »Gespräche im Winter« (2007; tr. Conversations in winter), and his urban portrait »Vilnius. Eine Stadt in Europa« (2006; tr. Vilnius. A city in Europe). Published in 2017, in »Der magnetische Norden« (tr. The magnetic north) Venclova looks back on his life in conversations with Ellen Hinsey, and talks about poetry, the politics of the Great Powers and complicated history of Central Eastern Europe.

Venclova is also a renowned translator into Lithuanian of works by Akhmatova, Brodsky, Miłosz, Boris Pasternak, Ossip Mandelstam, Baudelaire, Michaux, Pound and Eliot. In the summer term of 2010, Venclova was a Samuel Fischer Visiting Professor for Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin. In 2013 he was made an honorary citizen of Vilnius and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. In 2014 Venclova and Franz Mon jointly received the Petrarca-Preis. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and Vilnius.

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