On October 27th during the Xth Jubilee Gala Ceremony of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2022, held at the Teatr Polski in Warsaw, Ms Marianna Kiyanovska, outstanding Ukrainian poet and translator, received the Award. 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 ideals which Zbigniew Herbert’s work exemplifies: independence, love of freedom, intolerance of deceit, inequality and violence. Existing Laureates include W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic, Ryszard Krynicki, Lars Gustafsson, Breyten Breytenbach, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Agi Miszol, Durs Grünbein and Yusef Komunyakaa.

Conferred since 2013, the Zbigniew Herbert Award, Poland’s only truly international prize, 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 Monmany (Spain), and Tomasz Różycki (Poland).

The Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award was presented to the laureate, who participated virtually in the ceremony, Mrs Grażyna Melanowicz,  member of the Board of the PZU Foundations, and Tomasz Różycki – on behalf of the Award Jury and The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation.

Marianna Kiyanovska was born on November 17th 1973 in the town of Zhovkva (formerly Nestierow in the USSR) near Lviv. She completed her Ukrainian Philology Studies at Lviv’s Ivan Franko National University, and during that time co-founded an all female literary group called “MMJUNNA TUHA”. She debuted in 1997 with Reincarnation. She has since published over a dozen poetry works.

She has, among others, translated the Polish poetry of Bolesław Leśmian and Julian Tuwim, as well the works of poets from the younger generation, including Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Roman Honet, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki and Adam Wiedemann. She has also begun working on the translation of Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefather’s Eve). For her translation work, she was decorated with the Zasłużony dla Kultury Polskiej (Meritorious for Polish Culture) medal.

In 2017 she published a poetry anthology Бабин Яр. Голосами (The Voices of Babyn Yar), which led to her receiving Ukraine’s prestigious Taras Shevchenko National Prize. The anthology commemorates the victims of the mass murder committed by the Nazis in Babyn Yar, near Kiev, during World War II, when nearly 34,000 people were massacred. Jews. The remains of victims of earlier Bolshevik purges, and of the Great Famine, also rest in Babyn Yar. The Polish translation of The Voices of Babyn Yar, by Adam Pomorski, was honored with the European Poet of Freedom Literary Award in Gdańsk, which Marianna Kiyanovska received in June 2022. Also in that year The Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) published a bilingual edition of The Voices of Babyn Yar, translated by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky.

In her acceptance speech Marianna Kiyanovska emphasised what the Zbigniew Herbert Award meant to her: “This award, due to all the people connected with it, as well as the circumstances of its receipt – both with the ongoing war in Ukraine and my life in general – has a deep metaphysical dimension for me. I am probably the only one, among the laureates of this award, who could have been Zbigniew Herbert’s neighbour, if we had only met in time; my apartment in Lviv is located four hundred meters from his home on Lychakivska Street (then Łyczakowska Street)”.

In her speech the laureate often alluded, with gratitude, to Zbigniew Herbert’s poetry: “Mr. Cogito’s character made me understand that freedom, or just quite simply the real truth about our human existence, begins with ‘I think’. Herbert finally, showed me how to think about the future in tenebrous, ‘nonsensical’ and ‘formless’ times, how to think about it through poetry that gives clarity, creates meanings and forms. (…) Herbert’s experience and the ethics derived from it – with his trauma of World War II, post-war Europe, the dream of ‘Hellenic’ Poland, and the reality of Poland’s communist era – all this is important for Ukraine today. It has to be understood. As a poet and translator I will do my best to make that happen”.

Towards the end of her speech Marianna Kiyanovska concluded: “…I would like to thank my Ukraine. Its defenders and all those people in Ukraine and the world, without whom free Ukraine would have died. I myself could not exist without Ukraine, just as Herbert could not exist without Poland. Just like him I, we, would not be able to exist without Lviv; even if it were only to be a memory. I thank the city of Lviv. My Athens”.

A laudation in honour of the laureate was given by Tomasz Różycki, Jury Chairman of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award: “That poetry (Kiyanovska’s) can sing, not unlike polyphonic overtone voices. It can be a street song from Lviv, a psalmody, a Christmas carol, an Orthodox Church choir, jazz improvisation, a lover’s humming. (…) In her book The Voices of Babyn Yar, she (Kiyanovska) dared to do the impossible – she endeavoured to give the dead a voice. A monumental lament was thus created, in Ukrainian, for the victims of a slaughter: the inhabitants of Kiev, massacred during the Second World War by Nazi Germany in Babyn Yar. People whose everyday language was Yiddish and Hebrew and Russian; who spoke Ukrainian, Polish and Romani. (…) In rhythmic, lamenting stanzas, Kiyanovska tells stories of lives and crimes. Unique stories, just as unique as every human being. Stories terrifyingly universal, because the victim’s voice is not uniquely a complaint, of people demanding remembrance of crimes, from many years past, but also of those committed today” – remarked Różycki in his address.

“The memory of his hometown accompanied Herbert to his last days. I am convinced that he would be glad, that the award named after him went to a poet who lives in Lviv, at Lychakivska Street (then Łyczakowska Street), where he also lived. But of course that wouldn’t be the most important point. Herbert considered Russia a threat to European values. He would today wholeheartedly side with the heroically defending Ukrainians. And finally, he would appreciate both Kiyanovska’s poetic virtuosity and, above all, her ethical beliefs. He himself wanted to turn the poetic imagination into a ‘tool of compassion’, and thus, as he wrote: ‘revive the dead / keep the covenant’. This postulate was fulfilled by the author of Babyn Yaremphasised Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow, and Foundation founder.

The evening was also enriched by a performance of ritual folk songs, from Ukraine’s various regions, by the legendary Ukrainian singer Olena Leonenko. Accompanied by well known musician Wojciech Lubertowicz, performing on hoop drums.

A full recording of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2022 Ceremony is available to view on the foundation’s Facebook page and the Herbert Foundation’s YouTube channel.

The PZU Foundation is the Strategic Partner of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2022.

The Zbigniew Herbert Foundation Partners include: the Warsaw based Arnold Szyfman Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski im. Arnolda Szyfmana), The Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Instytut Adama Mickiewicza), and Poland’s National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa).

Polish Radio (Polskie Radio) is this year’s media patron.

Media contact:
Sylwia Olczak
, PRIMUM PR, email: <s.olczak@primum.pl> 608 072 086.