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Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski, photo: Elżbieta Lempp
Adam Zagajewski, photo: Elżbieta Lempp

Born on June 21, 1945 in Lviv. Poet, novelist, essayist, laureate of many prestigious literary awards. Translations of his works have been published all over the world.

Zagajewski is the son of professor Tadeusz Zagajewski - a pioneer of Polish electronics (1912-2010). Shortly after his birth, the Zagajewski family was repatriated to Poland within the borders set at the Yalta conference. Zagajewski spent his childhood years in Gliwice, in the Silesia region, and university years in Kraków. He studied psychology and philosophy at the Jagiellonian University, later teaching philosophy courses as a university assistant. He also worked as an editor for the Student and Odra periodicals. Zagajewski soon made a name for himself as a poet of the Generation '68, referred to as the Kraków New Wave.

Zagajewski came from the Kraków-based Teraz (Now) group. Soon after signing the 'letter of 59' in 1975, his works were banned. In the 70s he was associated with the independent literary movement, and in 1982 he moved to Paris. In 2002, Zagajewski returned to Poland and currently lives in Kraków with his wife Maja Wodecka, an actress and translator.

Today he is a member of the editorial staff of Zeszyty Literackie literary journal. He is a laureate of the 1996 Vilenica Prize and the 2002 Adenauer Prize, and also a member of the Polish Writers Association. Zagajewski taught visiting poetry workshops at the School of Literature and Arts at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and a creative writing course at University of Houston in the USA.

His first poetry books, Komunikat / Communiqué and Sklepy mięsne / Meat Shops fulfilled his generation's manifesto for speaking the truth about the public reality and exposing the falsity of the official language. Apart from poems which were a reaction to the imposition of the martial law, his collection List. Oda do wielości / Letter. Ode to Multiplicity included those themes and their poetic representations which were to become distinct features of Zagajewski's works. Since then, his poetry has been contemplative and filled with questions, with recurring themes that span the constant questioning of biographical and existential roles of the protagonist of poetry to praising life seen in 'its changeability, its waving, its ambiguity' (as he wrote in Solidarność i samotność / Solidarity and Solitude), along with the immersion into the world of European culture and contemplation of its heritage and a return to his own roots (Poemat), pondering over possible variants of his own fate, trying on costumes and masks. An image of a pensive wanderer holding a book in his hand and travelling around the world as if 'checked out from a great library' keeps recurring in Zagajewski's poems (Płótno / The Canvas).

Similar themes are found in Zagajewski's prose. The novel Ciepło, zimno / Warm and cold is a coming of age story of a young intellectual who is exposed to the temptations of adult life. Tormented by doubts and inability to choose the world of unambiguous principles, he starts to serve the police state. While the novels Cienka kreska / Thin Line and Słuch absolutny / Absolute Pitch are devoted to spiritual dilemmas of a contemporary artist. Antinomy and multiplicity of reality make a permanent motif also in Zagajewski's novels. 'I understood that the world is double, divided, both wonderful and trivial, heavy and light, heroic and cowardly', as a communist officer admits in a story Zdrada / Treason within the Dwa miasta / Two Cities collection of Zagajewski's essays. These stories depict the world from a similar perspective. Solidarity and Solitude (1986) shows the maladies and illusions of a culture too deeply engaged into politics and confronts the dilemmas that today's writers or artists face. The prose pieces and mini-essays included in Two Cities and the novel W cudzym pięknie / In the Beauty of Others put forward philosophical deliberations, reflections on readings and travelling experiences across Europe. Zagajewski writes about Kraków and Paris, about towns of his childhood years, mythical places of his Central European education, about Nietzsche, Jung, Bruno Schulz, Cioran, Gottfried Benn; as well as about threats posed on spiritual life by our civilisation, paradoxes that arise from the situation where there are more and more mass media and less and less messages to convey, and about many more issues and key persons of our contemporary times.

I will never write only about birds singing, although I greatly admire birdsong, however, not to the extent that I could withdraw from the historical world, for the historical world is also fascinating. What really interests me is the interweaving of the historical and the cosmic world, the motionless one, or rather moving in a completely different motion. I will never know how these two coexist. They fight with each other and complement each other - and this is what's worth reflection.
-Adam Zagajewski

In 2010 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

About Adam Zagajewski:

It rarely happens that the muse of poetry speaks so clearly and with such a force as in Zagajewski's case. Rarely one can witness such an intensive dialogue between Euterpe and Klio.
-Joseph Brodsky
Zagajewski is not an aesthete. Higher criteria apply to poetry: woe to a writer who puts beauty before the truth.
-Susan Sontag

Sources:; Copyright: Villa Decius Association, 2001;, 2010.

Updated by: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, October 2010, translated by: Katarzyna Różańska, October 2010.

Selected bibliography:


  • Komunikat / Communiqué, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1972.
  • Sklepy mięsne / Meat Shops, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1975.
  • Wiersze / Poems, Warszawa,1976.
  • List / Letter (samizdat, as "print for internal use only"), Poznań: Witryna Poetycka OKS "Od Nowa", 1978; Kraków: Krakowska Oficyna Studentów KOS, 1979 (extended edition, introduction by Tadeusz Nyczek).
  • List. Oda do wielości, Nowe wiersze / Letter. Ode to Multiplicity, New Poems (samizdat), Kraków: Półka Poetów, 1982; Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1983.
  • Petit (samizdat), Słowo, 1983.
  • Jechać do Lwowa i inne wiersze / Travelling to Lviv and Other Poems (graphics by Józef Czapski), London: Aneks, 1985; (samizdat) Margines (Oficyna Literacka), 1986; Droga, 1986; Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich, 2009, ISBN 978-83-60046-07-4.
  • Nowe wiersze / New Poems (samizdat), Świt,1985.
  • Płótno / The Canvas, Paris: Zeszyty Literackie, 1990; Warsaw: Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich, 2002, ISBN 83-91-1068-8-8.
  • Dzikie czereśnie / Wild Cherries (selected poems), Kraków: Znak, 1992, ISBN 83-70-0625-6-3.
  • Ziemia ognista / The Fiery Land, Poznań: a5, 1994, ISBN 83-85568-09-3.
  • Późne święta / Late Christmas (selected poems), Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1998, ISBN 83-06-0267-2-1.
  • Trzej aniołowie / Three Angels (selected poems, bilingual edition), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1998, ISBN 83-08-0278-0-6.
  • Pragnienie / Desire, Kraków: a5, 1999, 2000, 2001, ISBN 83-85568-43-3.
  • Powrót / Return, Kraków: Znak, 2003, ISBN 83-24-0033-9-8.
  • Mistyka dla początkujących / Mystique pour débutants / Mysticism for Beginners (selected poems, bilingual edition), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005.
  • Anteny / Antennas, Kraków: a5, 2005, ISBN 83-85568-75-1.
  • Niewidzialna ręka / Invisible Hand, Kraków: Znak, 2009, ISBN 978-83-240-1246-6.
  • Wiersze wybrane / Selected Poems, Kraków: a5, 2010, ISBN 978-83-61298-17-5.

Novels and prose pieces:

  • Ciepło, zimno / Warm and Cold, Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1975.
  • Słuch absolutny / Absolute Pitch, Kraków: 1979; b.m.w.: 1983.
  • Cienka kreska / Thin Line, Kraków: Znak, 1983, ISBN 83-70-0608-8-9.


  • Świat nie przedstawiony / The Unpresented World (literary sketches, with Julian Kornhauser), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1974.
  • Drugi oddech / Second Wind (literary sketches), Kraków: Znak, 1978.
  • Solidarność i samotność / Solidarity and Solitude, Paris: Zeszyty Literackie, 1986; (samizdat) Margines (Oficyna Literacka), 1986; Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich, 2002.
  • Dwa miasta / Two Cities, Paris-Kraków: Biblioteka Zeszytów Literackich-Oficyna Literacka, 1991, ISBN 83-85-1583-3-2; Lublin: Wydawnictwo UMCS, 2001, ISBN 83-22-7166-4-8; Warsaw: Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich, 2007, ISBN 83-60-0466-5-4.
  • W cudzym pięknie / In the Beauty of Others, Poznań: a5, 1998, 2000, 2001, ISBN 83-85568-37-9.
  • Obrona żarliwości / In Defence of Fervour, Kraków: a5, 2002, ISBN 83-85568-57-3.
  • Poeta rozmawia z filozofem / The Poet Talks to the Philosopher, Warsaw: Fundacja Zeszytów Literackich, 2007, ISBN 978-83-60046-85-2.



  • Tё shkosh nё Lvov, Pristina, 2002.


  • Tremor. Selected poems, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985, 1987; London, 1987.
  • Mysticism for Beginners, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997; London, 1998.
  • Three angels, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1998.
  • Solidarity, Solitude. Essays, Ecco Press, 1990.
  • Canvas, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991.
  • Another Beauty, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
  • Without End. New and Selected Poems, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001 (nomination to the National Book Critics Award in the category of poetry, 2002).
  • Selected Poems, London, 2004.
  • Eternal Enemies, New York, 2008.


  • Povratak, Sarajevo, 2006.


  • Solidarité, Solitude (Solidarność i samotność), Édition Fayard, 1986.
  • Coup de crayon (Cienka kreska), Édition Fayard, 1987.
  • Palissade, Marronniers, Liserons, Dieu, Paris: Édition Fayard, 1989 (J. Malrieu Prize, 1990).
  • La Trahison (Dwa miasta), Paris: Édition Fayard, 1993.
  • Mystique pour débutans, et autres poémes, Paris, 1999.


  • Mistiqua le-mathilim, Tel Aviv, 1999.


  • Poemas escorgidos, Valencia, 2005.


  • Wat zingt is wat zwijgt. Gedichten, Tilburg, 1998.
  • Mystiek voor beginners, Amsterdam, 2003.


  • Gedichte, Munich: Carl Hauser Verlag, 1984, 2002; Vienna: 1989.
  • Stündlich Nachrichten (anthology), Berlin: Oberbaum, 1984.
  • Der dünne Strich (Cienka kreska), Munich: Hanser, 1985.
  • Polen. Staat im Schatten der Sowjetunion, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowolth, 1981.
  • Das absolute Gehör (Słuch absolutny), Zürich: Unionsverlag, 1982.
  • Solidarität und Einsamkeit (Essays), Munich: Hanser, 1986.
  • Mystik für Anfänger. Gedichte, Munich: Hanser, 1997 (2000 N. Lenau Prize awarded by the Artistic Brotherhood from Esslingen for the European lyrics, jointly with Karl Dedecius).
  • Die Wiesen von Burgund. Ausgewählte Gedichte, Munich, Vienna, 2003.


  • Utsikt over Krakow, Oslo, 1987.


  • Putovati u Lavov, Belgrade, 1988.
  • Platno. Izbrane poeme, Belgrade, 2003.
  • Antene, Belgrade, 2007.


  • Divé čerešne, Bratislava, 1994.


  • Mistika za začetnike, Ljubljana, 1997.


  • Ode till mångfalden, Stockholm: Hoganas, 1987.
  • Elektrisk elegi och andra dikter, Stockholm, 1995.
  • Törst, Stockholm, 2003.


  • Bårmi is történt, Budapest, 2004.

Translations by Zagajewski:

  • Raymond Aron, "Widz i uczestnik. Z Raymondem Aronem rozmawiają Jean-Louis Missika i Dominique Wolton", London: Polonia, 1984; (samizdat) Oficyna Literacka, 1984; CDN, 1984; Oficyna Literacka, 1985; Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1992, ISBN 83-07-0227-7-0.
  • Vladimir Volkov, "Montaż" (novel), London: Polonia, 1986, ISBN 0902352571.
  • Mircea Eliade, "Religia, literatura i komunizm. Dziennik emigranta", London: Puls, 1990, ISBN 0-907587-54-2.

Distinctions and awards (selected):

  • "Czerwona Róża" / "Red Rose" Prize awarded by the Students' of the Seacoast Club "Żak" in Gdańsk (1969).
  • Kościelski Literary Prize in Geneva (1975) for The Unpresented World.
  • "Zapis" Prize awarded by a samizdat periodical "Zapis" (1980) for Letter.
  • "Zapis" Prize in the field of literature and literature promotion (1985).
  • Kurt Tucholsky Literary Prize, awarded by Swedish PEN Club (1985).
  • Andrzej Kijowski Prize, Warsaw (1986).
  • Prix de la Liberté awarded by French PEN Club (1987).
  • "Arka" Prize awarded by a samizdat periodical "Arka" (1987) for Travelling to Lviv and Other Poems and Solidarity and Solitude.
  • Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award in New York 1988 (1989).
  • Kraków Book of the Month Prize (October 1993) for Return.
  • Zygmunt Hertz Literary Prize 1993 awarded by "Kultura" in Paris (1994).
  • Vilenica International Literary Prize (1996).
  • Władysław and Nelly Turzański Foundation Award in Toronto for outstanding achievements in the field of Polish culture (2000).
  • Tomas Tranströmer Prize (2001).
  • Horst Bienk Prize in the field of poetry awarded by the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (2002).
  • Konrad Adenauer Foundation Prize for the writer's oeuvre (2002).
  • Neustadt Prize (called "Little Noble Prize") awarded by University of Oklahoma and the monthly magazine "World Literature Today" (2004).
  • Czesław Miłosz Prize awarded by the USA Embassy in Poland for his contribution to the development of Polish-American understanding (2008).

Selected Nominations:

  • Nomination to the Nike Award for In the Beauty of Others (1999).
  • Nomination to the Nike Award for Desire (2000).
  • Nomination to the Silesian Literary Lauer (May 2006).
  • Nomination to the Nike Award for Antennas, Biblioteka Poetycka Wydawnictwa a5 (2006).
  • Nomination to the Media Award "Cogito" for The Poet Talks to the Philosopher (2008).
  • Nomination to "European Freedom Poet" Gdańsk Award for The Poet talks to the Philosopher (2008).'s picture
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Adam Zagajewski


Both Light and Shadow...The Work of Adam Zagajewski, a5 Press, Kraków 2015

For the 70th birthday of Adam Zagajewski, a5 Press prepared a bilingual Polish-English anthology of essays devoted to the works of the poet. Both light and shadow...The Work of Adam Zagajewski contains over twenty texts from authors of different ages and nationalities who are fascinated by the poems and the essays of the jubilarian. Read more about: Both Light and Shadow... The Work of Adam Zagajewski

A new volume containing thirteen essays by Adam Zagajewski, written at the end of the previous and the beginning of the present century. It contains above all the sum of the reflections of this outstanding poet, essayist, novelist, and translator on the essence of poetry and art... Read more about: In Defense of Passion - Adam Zagajewski

Adam Zagajewski


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