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On May 25th, Breyten Breytenbach received the 2017 Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award. The Award was presented at a ceremony at Teatr Polski in Warsaw. Breytenbach, the South African poet, received a statuette, and a cheque for fifty thousand U.S. dollars endowed by the PZU Foundation, the Strategic Partner of this year’s edition of the Award.
First conferred in 2013, the Herbert Award recognizes outstanding artistic and intellectual achievements, inspired by the values and ideals which Zbigniew Herbert’s work exemplifies, such as independence, love of freedom, and a resistance to falsehood, injustice and violence. As it has for many generations, his poetry continues to provide a guide to moral thought and a source of hope.
An international jury composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers, selects each year’s Laureate. The 2017 jury included Yuri Andrukhovich (Ukraine), Edward Hirsch (U.S.A.), Michael Krüger (Germany), Jarosław Mikołajewski (Poland), and Mercedes Monmany (Spain). Jarosław Mikołajewski, a poet and essayist, presented the Award.
Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow and Chairman of the Zbigniew Herbert Foundation Board, said, “Breyten Breytenbach’s biography is an example of how the life and work of the artist are inextricably linked.” She added, “It’s common knowledge that staying true to your ideals is a challenge, but the life of this year’s Laureate demonstrates that it is worth it to be faithful.”
Breytenbach read his poetry and gave a speech upon receiving the Award. Breytenbach spoke of his spiritual affinity with Zbigniew Herbert’s work. He also drew attention to other great figures he admires in Polish literature and art, including Bruno Schulz, Joseph Conrad, Czesław Miłosz, Witold Gombrowicz, and Wisława Szymborska. Breytenbach expressed sincere gratitude to Katarzyna Herbert, the Foundation, and the jury.
In his speech, he said that in our human effort “to experience and understand life,” we must treat each part of life “as if it were the first and the last.” He continued, “This is the lesson our guides of poetry, like Master Zbigniew Herbert, impart: that the word is no remedy to the ails of the world, no answer; that it cannot be the representation of reality because it is the reality of being here and now – and thereby the only always we can know.” Breytenbach also urged “true transformation, true emancipation, true human agency in the face of an eternity of unfolding, true accountability for the past and the future with a real responsibility toward life.”
A full video of the Award ceremony is available on www.culture.pl, and on the Herbert Foundation YouTube channel.
The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award Partners include the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Instytut Adama Mickiewicza), the Warsaw-based Arnold Szyfman Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana) and the National Library. The media partners were Polish Radio and Poland’s television Culture Channel (TVP Kultura). Strategic Partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2017 is the PZU Foundation.