Breyten Breytenbach accepted the award, saying, “I am profoundly humbled by this recognition and accept it with the knowledge that it carries the name of a brave and wise poet and essayist. I hope I can live up to the example he gave us, particularly in this very dark season of anger and disarray. I am proud to be among those who believe that there is, in each of us, a part of humanity and a strive for values worth fighting for – in the example of and inspired by Herbert.”
Born in 1939, Breytenbach is a poet, prose writer, essayist, playwright, as well as a painter. He is one of South Africa’s most famous authors and artists. He has published around fifty books.
While living in France in the 1960s he became involved in the anti-apartheid movement. He entered South Africa in 1975 using a fake passport, intending to help organise trade unions among the black populace. Arrested and charged under anti-terrorism laws, he received a nine year prison sentence. He was released after seven years, following international protests. Since then he has been awarded many literary prizes, has taught at New York University, and has exhibited his paintings in galleries throughout the world. He presently divides his time between France and South Africa.
“My husband always underlined that a writer’s stature is not only determined by his talent, but also, or perhaps above all else, by his character, and moral conduct. He once offered his young friends the following advice »You will never stray if you stand by those who are beaten, and minorities.« I am pleased that the Jury have this year chosen an artist who combines a remarkable talent with an uncompromising stance, and who stands with the oppressed.” – Katarzyna Herbert, widow of the poet, and founder of the Foundation that bears his name.
The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award is a distinction in the global field of literature – primarily poetry. It has been conferred since 2013 in recognition of outstanding artistic and intellectual achievements inspired by the values and ideals which Zbigniew Herbert’s work exemplifies.
This year’s Laureate was chosen by an international jury composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers: Yuri Andrukhovych (Ukraine), Edward Hirsch (USA), Michael Krüger (Germany), Jarosław Mikołajewski (Poland), and Mercedes Monmany (Spain).
“Breytenbach is a remarkable poet and a remarkable human being. What distinguishes his poems is their moral tension, range and dynamism of the imagination, as well as the quality of his humanity – zero tolerance of violence, discrimination, an imperative to stand with the weak. His human qualities brought him both admiration and seven years in prison. Today, his poetic qualities bring him the Zbigniew Herbert Award.” – Jarosław Mikołajewski.
“Breyten Breytenbach is the most gifted and most productive poet of White-Africa’s literature. His travel-books about the post-apartheid South-Africa show a clear and convincing picture of the problems which are still not solved: the clash of mentality between the black and the white population” – Michael Krüger.
“We also honour a representative of Afrikaans – a language that is in danger of gradually vanishing. Breyten Breytenbach extends its life, writing poetry as a means of resistance.” – Yuri Andrukhovych.
The Award Presentation Ceremony will be held in Warsaw on May 25 2017.
Zbigniew Herbert Foundation Partners:
The Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Instytut Adama Mickiewicza), the Warsaw-based Arnold Szyfman Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana), and The National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa). Media partners: Polish Radio (Polskie Radio) and Polish Television’s Culture Channel (TVP Kultura).