born in 1857 in Berdyczów
died in 1924 in Oswalds
One of the greatest European writers.
He was a son of Apollon Korzeniowski, a poet, translator and an outstanding insurrection activist. He was brought up in Warsaw, Vologda (northern Russia), where he lived in exile, and in Lviv. As a boy, he lived in Krakow (in the years 1869-1874). At the age of 17, he became a sailor. Fate led him to the British navy – he started learning English as late as at the age of 20, but he ultimately wrote his works in this very language.
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Conrad’s first novel, Almayer’s Folly, was released in 1895, when he was 38 years old. Since that moment, he wrote 14 further novels and 8 collections of short stories. Zdzisław Najder wrote: ”Joseph Conrad was a man of three cultural backgrounds: Polish, French, and English. As a matter of fact, he was well acquainted with other European cultures as well. From his homeland, he took the knowledge of Polish literature, especially of the great Romantics (Słowacki was his favourite poet, «the soul of Polishness», as he described him), and the typical themes of faithfulness, betrayal, duty and honour. French was his second language. The great writers of French realism, such as Flaubert and Maupassant, were his major literary role models. Conrad was also we acquainted with the history of France [...]. He became one of the classics of English prose, although his English bears clear traces of Polish and French interference. Until his last days, Conrad spoke English with a very strong foreign accent, a little bit Polish, a little bit French.”
Although – probably owing to his most famous novel, Lord Jim – he is known, above all, as a marine writer, a majority of his works is set on the mainland: in France, England, the Far East, Africa and Latin America.
As a mature man, he visited Krakow with his family in the summer of 1914. He was still there when the first World War broke out. Seeking shelter, we travelled to Zakopane, where he stayed for two months. [ezp].
born in 1921
died in 2006
Writer, philosopher and journalist.
He was born in Lviv, to a family of Jewish descent. He studied medicine at Lviv Medical Institute University, but his education was interrupted by the German invasion (he later continued his studies at Jagiellonian University, refusing, however, to take final exams). In 1946, due to the repartee campaign, he moved with his parents to Krakow.
In 1946 Lem’s debut novel Człowiek z Marsa (The Man from Mars) was serialized in the Nowy Świat Przygód (New World of Adventures) magazine. During that time Lem’s stories were published in the press (for instance in the Tygodnik Powszechny) weekly newspaper. Thanks to Wisława Szymborska’s support, he wrote humorous poems for the Kocynder magazine. In 1948 Lem completed his novel Szpital Przemienienia (Hospital of the Transfiguration) that was suppressed by censorship until 1955 when it was published under a different title.
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Lem made his debut with the novel Astronauci (The Astronauts) published in 1951. Lem describes the origins of the book in the following words:
The story of the Astronauts begins with a walk. I lived in Zakopane, staying at the Astoria, and went for a walk with a fat gentleman to the Czarny Staw, I did not know then that my companion was Jerzy Pański, an editor of the Czytelnik. We were talking about the absence of Polish science fiction books. "Will you write one?" – he asked. "Why not?" – I replied. After a few weeks I received an author’s agreement with a blank space for the title. "Astronauts" – I wrote, having no idea then what the book would be about.
Ten years after Astronauci (The Astronauts) was published, one of the most famous works of the author’s oeuvre was published: Solaris and Powrót z gwiazd (Return from the Stars). In 1966 he published the autobiographic Wysoki Zamek (Highcastle) and Opowieści o pilocie Pirxie (Tales of Pirx the Pirate) well known to readers in 1968.
Lem is deemed as one of the most important creators of fantasy-academic literature. Moreover, he is the author of futurology debates, philosophical works, articles and literary comments.
born in 1911 in Szetejnie
died in 2004 in Krakow
An outstanding poet, essayist, translator and prose writer. Nobel Prize winner (1980).
He was born in Lithuania. He graduated from a law programme at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius [at present: Vilnius University]. In 1933, he debuted with Poemat o czasie zastygłym [Poem on Time Frozen].
The life and work of Miłosz falls outside any small, confined biographical frames. In 1968 he wrote in Berkeley:
Faithfull mother tongue,
I have been serving you.
Every night, I used to set before you little bowls of colours,
so you could have your birch, your cricket, your finch
as preserved in my memory.
This lasted many years.
You were my native land; I lacked any other.
I thought you would also be a messenger
between me and some good people,
even if they were few, twenty, ten,
or not born, as yet.
Now, I confess my doubt.
There are moments when it seems to me I have squandered my life.
For you are a tongue of the debased,
of the unreasonable, hating themselves
even more than they hate other nations,
a tongue of informers,
a tongue of the confused,
ill with their own innocence.
But without you, who am I?
Only a scholar in a distant country,
a success, without fears and humiliations.
Yes, who am I without you?
Just a philosopher, like everyone else. […]
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born in 1930 in Borzęcin
deid in 2013 in Nice
The most famous Polish playwright, a popular prose writer, satirist. He debuted in 1950 as a graphic artist and soon after it (in 1953) as a short story writer. In 1958, his first play, Policja [The Police], was released.
Jan Błoński, Mrożek’s friend and an expert in his works, described their essence in the following words: “Mrożek was never an expert in the matters of soul in his plays. His characters are not developed psychologically. There is, however, astonishment with fate in his works. A man is led somewhere, you do not really know where. These theatre inspirations derive from communist Poland. The atmosphere of hypocrisy, double life, double language was a perfect food for his thought. What does the expression «like from Mrożek’s play» mean? This saying exists only within the Polish culture and is linked to the essence of Polish sense of humour. Polish people are especially sensitive to absurdity, curiosity. This was a way to abreact history.”
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Before Mrożek emigrated to France in 1963, he had lived in Krakow and Warsaw. A year after he left the country, he wrote: “Recently, the past has been haunting me. The fifties. Faces, objects. My unforgettable room at Krupnicza street. I am from Krakow. [...] I am there and I shall stay there, at Karmelicka street, by the Skala cinema, which, by the way, has changed its name to a completely different one, it was a pre-war name, on a rotten, enchanted, infinite afternoon of one of these indefinable Krakow seasons. I go to a stereoscope, despairing that I will never see these lands in other way that in this stereoscope alone."
In 1996, he returned to Krakow and emigrated again in 2008 to live in Nice with his wife. [ezp].
born in 1923 in Prowent [now a part of Kórnik]
died in 2012 in Krakow
A outstanding poet, Nobel Prize winner (1996).
She debuted in Krakow in 1945. Her first collection of poems, Dlatego żyjemy [That’ Why We Are Alive], was published in 1952.
Soon after World War II, she fell in love with the poetry of Czesław Miłosz, who lived in Krakow back then. Over half a century later, when she was awarded with the Nobel prize, Miłosz wrote of Szymborska’s poetry: "For me, Szymborska is, above all, a poet of consciousness. This means, that she speaks to us, people living simultaneously to her, as one of us, keeping her private affairs to herself, she exists in a certain distance from us, but at the same time she refers to things known to each of us from our own lives. Indeed, don't we all know, for example, stripping down before a medical examination, trying to recall our dreams, wonder about coincidence, reading letters from people who are gone?"
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She was connected with Krakow almost all her life (since 1929). After the war, she studied Polish and sociology at Jagiellonian University (she did not graduate). She was a member of the first post-war literary group, Inaczej [Differently]. In the years 1953–1966, she was the director of poetry department in a weekly magazine, Życie literackie [Literary Life], with which she continued to collaborate in subsequent years as a feature writer. In one of her feature pieces she wrote: "I live in Krakow, which means that I do not sightsee it. [..] That I do not slow down when I am passing St. Andrew’s church, I do not sigh, even though this is the most beautiful church in Krakow. That on my way across Market Square, I do not stop by St. Mary’s Church with my neck craned in trusting anticipation for the bugle call."
She was also closely connected with Zakopane. [ezp].
born in 1885 in Warsaw
died in 1939 in Jeziory
Novelist, playwright, painter, art theorist.
Witkiewicz was the son of Maria Pietrzkiewicz and Stanisław Witkiewicz – a famous painter, architect, and art critic from the Ostoja crest. He was reared in Zakopane, and thoroughly educated by his father. He began writing at an early age. Witkiewicz studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. He was a friend of Leon Chwistek, Karol Szymanowski and Bronisław Malinowski. Following the suicide of Witkiewicz’s fiancée Jadwiga Janczewska, Malinowski and Witkiewicz traveled to Australia. During World War I he went to Russia where he entered an officers’ training school and fought as an infantry officer. He also witnessed the Russian revolution of 1917.
Upon his return to Poland, he became associated with a group of “formist” artists and the milieu of the Zwrotnica magazine. During that time he was a proponent of the theory of Pure Form based on the premise that the essential quality of art lies in the unity of a work’s structure, which plays a decisive role in "arousing metaphysical feelings". This theory served as a basis for many of his dramas, Szewcy (The Shoemakers) being the best-known. Witkiewicz’s novels, permeated with the philosophy of catastrophe, are mostly narrative-discursive.
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Witkiewicz founded The S.I. Witkiewicz Portrait Painting Company in 1925. Paintings, created under the influence of various narcotics, were annotated with a sort of a code referring to the drugs taken while painting a particular work. Witkacy described his experience with drugs in a separate publication Narkotyki (Narcotics, 1932). In The Rules of The S.I Witkiewicz Portrait Painting Company he wrote:
Any kind of criticism on the part of the customer is a b s o l u t e l y prohibited. The customer may not like the portrait, but the company cannot permit even the most discreet comments without giving its special authorization. If the company had allowed itself the luxury of listening to the customers’ views, it would have gone mad a long time ago. We place a particular emphasis on this paragraph, since it is extremely difficult to restrain the customer from making comments that are entirely uncalled for.
Witkiewicz was associated with Zakopane, Warsaw and Krakow. Upon hearing the news of the Soviet invasion on Poland, he committed suicide.
born in 1920 in Wadowice
died in 2005 in Vatican
Catholic Church priest, Pope in the years 1978–2005.
He was born in Wadowice, he graduated from the gymnasium there in 1938. That same year, he started a programme in Polish language and literature at Jagiellonian University; he did not graduate because of the war. In 1946, he was ordained as a priest. Two years later, he graduated from the theology programme at Angelicum in Rome. After twelve years of working as a priest, he was ordained a bishop, six years later, in 1964 he became the archbishop and metropolitan bishop of Krakow. Further stages in the history of his career as a priest include appointment to cardinal in 1967 and election for the pope eleven years later. As pope, he took the name of John Paul II. Three years after he became the head of Catholic Church, he survived an assassination attempt. His political activity to a large extent contributed to the change in the political system in Poland. His pontificate is associated especially with the policy of ecumenism and an unprecedented number of pilgrimages.
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Apart from works on theology and philosophy, John Paul II also left a rich literary oeuvre. He was interested in theatre since a very young age. He was active as a theatre critic, but he also wrote plays, the most famous of which are Brat naszego Boga [Our God’s Brother] (1944–1950) and Przed sklepem jubilera [The Jeweller’s Shop] (1960) He also wrote poetry. His juvenilia works include: Renesansowy psałterz [Renessaince Book of Psalms] – a collection of poems written before the war and published in 1999. Pieces written before the beginning of his pontificate (apart from the above mentioned collection of poems) were published by the Znak publishing house in a volume entitled Poezje i dramaty [Poems and Plays] (1979 – as all the texts composed before 1978, this was published under the name of Karol Wojtyła). The last literary work by John Paul II was Tryptyk rzymski [Roman Triptych] published in 2003.