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During a meeting in March the Jury of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award Foundation decided to award this year’s distinction to outstanding Israeli poet Agi Mishol. May 15’s gala at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw saw Agi Mishol accept the award in person.

The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award is a distinction on the literary world stage, presented in recognition of outstanding artistic and intellectual achievements, inspired by the values and ideals which Zbigniew Herbert’s work exemplifies: independence, love of freedom, truth and his intolerance of inequality and violence. The PZU Foundation is the strategic partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2019.

During a ceremony at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw, Agi Mishol received the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2019. One of the most famous and highly regarded Israeli poets, Mishol accepted a statuette and a cheque for fifty thousand dollars. The PZU Foundation is this year’s strategic partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award. Conferred since 2013, the Zbigniew Herbert Award, as Poland’s only international award with a uniquely global reach, underlines the presence, role and position of Polish literature – and more widely Polish culture – in the international arena.

Agi Mishol was born in 1947 in Transylvania as Agnes Fried. Her Jewish parents managed to survive the Holocaust (her mother was an inmate at Auschwitz), and in the 1950s decided to move to Israel. They only spoke Hungarian at home, also the first language of the future Hebrew language poet. Mishol began to write early on in her youth, and has seen over a dozen of her collected works published. According to Amos Oz, Mishol’s poetry can simultaneously recount stories, sing and dance, they can also mysteriously overcome sadness with joy.

This year’s Award Laureate, was chosen by an international jury, composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers: Yuri Andrukhovych (Ukraine), Edward Hirsch (USA), Michael Krüger (Germany), Mercedes Montana (Spain), and Tomasz Różycki (Poland).

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to stand here before you, to be awarded the prize in memory of the poet I love so much, Zbigniew Herbert. Writing is work that is done in solitude, and the physical distance between the room, in my small village, and standing here before you, still seems to me unreal. Thank you so much, poetry is something I have dedicated my life to (…) If poetry has any role at all, it is to remind us of ourselves, to point to the more elevated parts of our psyche – conscience, morality, beauty. Equally, poetry alerts us to injustices and suffering, and in this respect translations that transcend borders, without passport or visa, contribute to the benefit of the human race – the laureate observed.

A laudation in honour of Agi Mishol, and on behalf of the Jury of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, was given by Tomasz Różycki.

Agi Mishol’s poetry is colourful, filled with Mediterranean joy and sensuality, eroticism and warmth, not unlike a peach orchard, one in which the poet herself resides in Israel. It is a tale about love and loved ones, and at times about their passing – as in poems dedicated to parents, a tale about the present, full of the heated here and now – at a bazaar, in a shop, on the internet, in the bedroom, kitchen, or out in the field and on the motorway. It is a tale about victims of war. About ancient roots of thousand-year-old olive trees, on house settlement building sites, on the other side of the Jordan, that just like Hebrew consonants, sprout completely new and unexpected shoots. It is poetry all at once surprising, upending our fossilized habits, whilst all at once maintaining simplicity and strength of influence, with a mighty emotional charge – remarked Tomasz Różycki.

I believe that my husband would be delighted by the news that the prize bearing his name has been awarded to an Israeli poet, who both in her work and public utterances opposes nationalism, one that also besets her own society. Herbert always considered it every writer’s duty, irrespective of price, to stand by the oppressed – commented Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow, and founder of the Foundation bearing his name.

The evening was enriched by a performance of „Babie Lato” (Indian Summer) by contemporary Israeli dancer Adi Weinberg-Prejna. A selection of poems by Zbigniew Herberts was recited by actor Krzysztof Gosztyła.

The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award was presented to Agi Mishol by Adam Zagajewski and Grażyna Melanowicz, respectively board-members of the Zbigniew Herbert and PZU Foundations.

The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation Partners include: The Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Instytut Adama Mickiewicza), the Warsaw based Arnold Szyfman Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana), the Israeli Embassy, and Poland’s National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa). Polish Radio (Polskie Radio) is this year’s media patron. The PZU Foundation is the Strategic Partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2019.

The project was subsidized by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland from the Promotion of Culture Fund.