Writer and journalist. Born 17 January 1975 in Wrocław.
Writer and journalist, also a literary critic early on his career; he has represented Poland at a number of literature festivals abroad.
Michał Witkowski, Photo: Donat Brykczyński / Reporter / East News
Witkowski is a writer and journalist, however early on his career he was also a literary critic. He was noted for being a co-editor (with Piotr Marecki and Igor Stokfiszewski) of Tekstylia (2002), the first major synthetic approach to the literature of the 1970s generation which comprised anthology of works, a dictionary and a collection of excerpts from reviews.
After graduating from Jagiellonian University with an MA in Polish Studies, Witkowski stayed there to work for a PhD and taught a course at the Department of Journalism, but then gave up the scholarly career for writing. Nominated for the Polityka Passport in 2005 and 2006, he won the award in 2007. He was also nominated for the Nike Literary Awards in 2006 and 2007 for Lubiewo and Fototapeta / The Photo Wallpaper, respectively, and won the 2006 Gdynia Literary Award for Lubiewo. He represented Poland at a number of literature festivals abroad and his next book, Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna-Szczakowej, has been nominated for the Angelus Central European Literary Award.
His first book Copyright was on the border between a collection of short stories and a novel, one narrator and his memory providing the link for all of the stories. Copyright was memorable for its somewhat absurd sense of humour, mocking paraphrases of the patterns characteristic of the 'roots' or mythographical prose, and multiple references to communist Poland (these would become Witkowski's hallmark). Only one story, Kurs ["Course?"], stands apart with its presentation of English lessons as a method of indoctrination to prepare learners for the budding capitalism through the use of texts describing a better life, and can now be regarded as an early prototype of the currently fashionable anti-consumerism prose. Witkowski's grotesque idea was to breathe life - by supplying biographies and traits of character - into the characters from a real language course called 'Kernel Two'. The title story Copyright is, in turn, an adaptation of Donaldówki, another story from the same volume. Both describe the contact of their protagonist with the world across Poland's western border - as a child (Donaldówki) and as a significantly more mature man (Copyright).
Witkowski's most important book, Lubiewo, available also on CD released by Korporacja Ha!Art with the writer as the reader, tackles homosexuality, an issue which has been sensitive in Poland for a long time, from the depths of communism to present times. The novel starts from a long scene in which a young journalist interviews Patrycja and Lukrecja, two superannuated men who call themselves queers and live in a flat filled with objects reminiscent of communist Poland. It is not until a hundred and some pages later that the journalist (whose name is the same as the author's and who will be consistently called Michaśka-literatka / Michaśka, the woman of letters) reveals his sexual orientation when talking about his homosexual initiation. The rest of the book shows him mainly as a collector of queer stories.
Both the writer and his characters describe themselves using vulgarisms, a strategy intended to neutralize the negative energy they contain and, ultimately, to wipe out the social stigma they express. Characteristically, Witkowski avoids the politically correct and fashionable term 'gej' ["gay"], treating it as a product of mass culture or even pure commerce. It reflects his refusal to assimilate with the society and his desire to live according to his own rules. Moreover, the book is filled with a peculiar longing for the ugliness, grime and brutality of the homosexual minority subculture.
Witkowski explained in an interview that the reason why Lubiewo disintegrates into a number of loosely connected episodes is that homosexuality as a taboo is unable to create a consistent narrative of its own. This explanation seems, however, somewhat superficial and ideological, and the mosaic-like structure of the novel redeems itself very well without it. Indeed, just like Copyright, Lubiewo could be taken for a hybrid of a novel and a collection of short stories, albeit with different proportions.
Fototapeta ["The Photographic wallpaper"], a collection of short stories which Witkowski wrote before Lubiewo and which had appeared in literary magazines, includes both conventional stories and well as those which, again, refer to the communist era. Kolaboracja, for instance, talks about a trip to the Soviet Union as a reward for a short story sent to Teleranek, a children's TV programme, while Psie Pole was once presented by the author as a beginning of a new novel.
The novel Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna-Szczakowej ["Barbara Radziwiłłówna from Jaworzno-Szczakowa"] is, in turn, advertized as a "grotesque story of the lives of Silesian riff-raff". Its main character, called Barbara Radziwiłłówna, is a black market money changer and a fence turned pawn shop owner whose good fortune ended with the end of communism in Poland. After a financial crash he has a vision of Virgin Mary and sets out on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Licheń. Instead of getting there, though, he ends up in a residence of a mafia boss who becomes an equivalent of Zygmunt August [the king who was in love with Barbara Radziwiłłówna] to him.
Witkowski has styled the language of his novel here and there to resemble an archaic nobility speech and, his Barbara Radziwiłłówna doing business through Ukrainians, has incrusted it with eastern elements in places. One can probably venture a comparison of his styling skills with those of Marian Pankowski's.
One of few young writers feeling at ease in the media world, Witkowski is adept at using provocation as a tool to present and promote his views. A case in point are the photo sessions in which he took part after the publication of Lubiewo. It is something of a paradox that advertising tricks, seemingly reserved for pop culture, are used in the service of linguistically refined prose and so in fact miss the target readership group. It may be seen as another manifestation of transgression which turns out to be Witkowski's strategy in matters of sex - and not only. It can also be perceived as evidence of being enthralled with camp esthetics, a cultural trend making creative use of elements of kitsch and pop-culture.
- Copyright (collection of short stories), Zielona Sowa, "Biblioteka Studium" Series, Kraków 2001.
- Tekstylia. O rocznikach siedemdziesiątych (co-editor), Korporacja Ha!art, Kraków 2002.
- Lubiewo, Korporacja Ha!art, Kraków 2005.
- Fototapeta (collection of short stories), W.A.B., Warszawa 2006.
- Barbara Radziwiłłówna z Jaworzna- Szczakowej, W.A.B., Warszawa 2007.
- Margot, Świat Książki, Warszawa 2009
- Drwal Wydawnictwo: "Świat Książki", Warszawa 2011
Author: Paweł Kozioł, December 2008; bibliography updated: 2013