Jakub Żulczyk is a writer and author of several books of fiction. Żulczyk studied journalism at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. As a journalist, he has written for influential magazines such as Lampa, Machina, Exklusiv and Tygodnik Powszechny. He has written regular columns for the likes of Dziennik, Elle and Wprost. He co-hosted a television show for the state-owned TVP 2 (Redakcja Kultury) and hosted his own show for Radio Roxy (Instytut Prosto).
He is – alongside Dorota Masłowska, Agnieszka Drotkiewicz and Mirosław Nahacz – part of a new generation of Polish writers born in the early 1980s, who in their books, plays and other writing, comment on the life and culture of the early 21st century. They emerged from the literary community which formed around Warsaw’s seminal Lampa Magazine, published by Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz, where they produced writing deeply engaged with pop-culture and the everyday lives of young people in post-communist Poland, echoing the story of Generation Z or Millennials – lacking ideals, let down by capitalism, unable to form lasting connections.
As Agata Pyzik writes summing up the most recent decade of Polish writing (Dwutygodnik, no. 196, 10/2016):
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None of the ‘banalists’ promoted by Dunin-Wąsowicz in the 1990s managed to create as comprehensive and engaging a picture of ‘second-rate Poland’ as ‘Polish-Russian War’ and ‘The Queen’s Pea Cock’ by Dorota Masłowska, has been as ambitious as ‘The Incredible Adventures of Robert Robur ‘by Mirosław Nahacz or as monumental and clearly influenced by Western avant-populistic novel form as ‘Radio Armageddon’ and subsequent novels by Żulczyk.
Żulczyk made his debut in 2006 with the book Do me some harm... all video games are all about love. This love/road story features a 25-year-old law student who takes a video game addicted 15-year-old girl on a journey. The book features what will become familiar themes – pop-cultural referencing, echoes of American books, songs and the titular video games. The author himself has described his central characters as ‘a third-rate version of Bonnie and Clyde’.
His second novel, Radio Armageddon, has achieved cult status within literary circles, being the tale of a group of kids from a private school who set up a rock band. The nihilistic, or maybe just ‘depressive’, tone of the book (enhanced by its black cover with a drawing of a skull) explored the complex reality of being part of the ‘emo’ subculture (the renowned critic Krzysztof Varga would later call it ‘the first Polish emo novel’).
Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz published both novels and commented:
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Żulczyk writes in a way which echoes films such as ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Before Sunrise’, youthful indie romantic comedies, featuring engaging characters and vividly written dialogues.
Dwutygodnik, no. 196, 10/2016
In later years, Żulczyk experimented with genre fiction: Institute (2010) is a horror set in a Kraków townhouse, which has become a prison for a group of young people. Zmrojewo (2011) and The Temple (2011) are more in the style of sci-fi/fantasy novels for young people. In 2013, he also wrote What happened down by the stream, a children’s book about friendship illustrated by Agata Bogacka.
In 2014, Żulczyk returned to a more mature, realistic style with his novel Blinded by the Lights. The book features two central protagonists: Jacek, a failed artist who has become a successful cocaine dealer; and the city of Warsaw itself, dark and riddled with dangers, a nightmare cityscape Jacek has to navigate with his wares. This urban odyssey features a gallery of complex, compromised characters – gangsters, celebrities, business folk – and has been a hit with readers and critics alike. In an interview for Wyborcza.pl, Żulczyk said:
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I wanted to write a book about the end of all illusions. About how hard we try to direct the inner films of our lives, to achieve something. This is why most people come to Warsaw. To have a career, improve their living standards, climb all kinds of ladders. Besides, it’s not just a need felt by those who come here from other cities. In this sense, it’s a book which could only be set here, in Poland’s capital. I have lived in other Polish cities and never noticed people running around this quickly to hunt something down, grab a bit of what seems real just for themselves.
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The book bagged Żulczyk a nomination for the prestigious Polityka Passport Award in 2014. Piotr Kofta, one of the jury members, explained this honour:
Żulczyk’s Warsaw of today is reminiscent of James Ellroy’s Los Angeles of the 1950s: trapped in eternal night, feverish with the hunger for gold, pulsating with crime and desire, fuelled and seduced by cocaine. This story of a dealer who lives by his own code of lies, convincing himself it is possible to cross this river of filth without so much as a stain, is for me the book of the season.
2016 saw the television premiere of Bad Teacher (Belfer), Żulczyk’s debut as a screenwriter for Canal+, which he penned alongside Monika Powalisz. A massive hit with audiences all over Poland, a second series was broadcast in 2017. Meanwhile, filming of HBO’s adaptation of Blinded by the Lights, directed by Krzysztof Skonieczny, Polish cinema’s newest star, has wrapped and is due to be broadcast in 2018.
Żulczyk’s latest 800 page novel Hound Hill (2017) has been a major critical and commercial success, and will be turned into a television series later this year, while his previous works are also scheduled to be adapted for the big screen in the coming years.
Translated by Marek Kazmierski, February 2018
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- Zrób mi jakąś krzywdę, Lampa i Iskra Boża, 2006
- Radio Armageddon, Lampa i Iskra Boża, 2008
- Instytut, Znak, 2010
- Zmrojewo, Nasza Księgarnia, 2011
- Świątynia, Nasza Księgarnia, 2011
- Zdarzenie nad strumykiem, Bunkier Sztuki, 2013
- Ślepnąc od świateł, Świat Książki, 2014.
- Wzgórze Psów, Świat Książki, 2017.