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During a gala held on September 15th at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw, Durs Grünbein accepted the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2020. Outstanding poet and essayist, he received a statuette and a cheque for 50 thousand dollars. The PZU Foundation is the Award’s Strategic Partner.

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.
Conferred since 2013, the Zbigniew Herbert Award is Poland’s only truly international award with a uniquely global reach, underlines the presence, role and position of Polish literature – and more widely Polish culture – on the international arena. The Award is conferred by a jury, composed of poets, essayists, translators and publishers from Europe and the United States. This year’s laureate was chosen by Yuri Andrukhovych (Ukraine), Edward Hirsch (USA), Michael Krüger (Germany), Mercedes Montana (Spain), and Tomasz Różycki (Poland).

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

Durs Grünbein was born in 1962 in Dresden. He studied Theatre Arts in Berlin, and from the mid ‘80s worked freelance with numerous literary publications. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification he travelled throughout Europe, South-East Asia and the United States. He is presently a Lecturer of Poetics at Düsseldorf’s Academy of Arts and lives in East Berlin.
“Grauzone morgens” (1988) was Durs Grünbein’s debut publication, followed by nearly 20 collected poetry works. He is both a translator and author of essays and opera librettos. „Mizantrop na Capri. Historie. Wiersze” [“Misanthrope on Capri. Stories. Poems”] (translated by Andrzej Kopacki) and “Wulkan i Wiersze” [“Volcano and Verse”] (translated by Jakub Ekier) introduce the Polish reader to his work.

Durs Grünbein delivered his speech in the form of a personal letter to Zbigniew Herbert. “I owe you a great deal, dear Zbigniew Herbert. How many times have you, you of all people, been my travelling companion? What attracted me was the cool tone of report in your poems; the louder, matter-of-fact style of your prose that took me to Italy, to the Netherlands, to France, before I could travel there myself”… „Do I know what led me to stand here today? I can only hope it was the voice of reason. It seems familiar to me, and it sometimes sounds, Pan Herbert, rather like yours” – stated the laureate.

Referring to the values contained in Herbert’s work Durs Grünbein stressed “Universal compassion, concern for the human conscience, that was the ethics that was to determine your aesthetics. Returning to the simple, the elemental, that was the turning point”.

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

“He is a poet of thought, best seen in the case of the widely reviewed epic poem about Descartes, which in itself is a kind of device, a poetic apparatus in the service of thoughtful reflection. In that sense Durs Grünbein also comes close to Zbigniew Herbert’s poetic tradition: universal culture continues to be a frame of reference, a place, which we all inhabit, in spite of the passing years, changing fashions and means of communication. Also an inexhaustible source of questions for him, that continue to be worth asking, a means of discovering kinship in the face of an anxious present; an element of permanence, something enabling us, if only for a moment, to forget the time and space that divide us” – Różycki remarked in his address.

“I am especially impressed that the jury decided to honour a poet from Germany, a country that was very important to Zbigniew Herbert. Thanks to outstanding translators, such as Karl Dedecius, he was able to publish his works there and was thereby literally loved by his German readers and poets. We spent many years together in West Berlin. Herbert said that it was a good city for a poet, with its adequate number of museums and spaces for walks” – commented Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow, and founder of the Foundation bearing his name.

In addition to the Laureates poems, guests attending the event had an opportunity to listen to a selection of Zbigniew Herbert’s poems in a virtuoso rendition by Wiesław Komas.

The evening was also enriched by Włodek Pawlik, world renowned composer and jazz pianist.

The PZU Foundation is the Strategic Partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2020.

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), and Poland’s National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa). Polish Radio (Polskie Radio) is this year’s media patron.