Born in 1980 in Ostrów Mazowiecka. He writes because he has felt an inner imperative to do so since his childhood. As a child he spent a lot of his time publishing his newspaper “Słowiczy głos”. He filled entire notebooks with fairy tales, tips and horoscopes.
He studied political studies in Warsaw and Istanbul. As an intern for CNN Türk he travelled all over Turkey. In Poland he started his journalistic career as an author of dispatches for the television station TVN24. He believes that this experience taught him how to be frugal with words. Before he begins to write an important reportage he reads poetry, often by Ewa Lipska. He considers The Good Soldier Švejk to be the most important book in his life.
I discovered that one doesn’t always have to make use of the Polish pathos when one tells about the world. Even when I write about something that is very sad I try to let a little light in. I can’t write differently.
In 2006 the daily Nowy Dzień, for which Szabłowski worked, was shut down. As a result, he applied for a job at the periodical Duży Format, where he was eventually given a position. He was very proud to be the youngest reporter on the team. The “deities” whose works he had on his shelf suddenly became his colleagues.
Witold is a wandering reporter, like Egon Erwin Kisch. When we were working on a story in Prague, me and the photographer went to sleep but Witold roamed the city on his own until 4 am. Szabłowski has to go through a city on foot on his own. He has an incredible ability to contact people in any language, without even knowing a given language. He likes people – Mariusz Szczygieł told culture.pl.
At the daily Gazeta Wyborcza (the weekly supplement of which is Duży Format) Szabłowski specialized in unusual missions. He was a dance leader at an alcohol-free wedding party. He described the lives of ordinary people in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. He was the first person to hitchhike through the country Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008. He reached the family of Ali Ağca, who, after failing to kill Pope John Paul II, went mad and claimed to be the Messiah. Ağca is the titular hero of the collection of reportages Zabójca z miasta moreli (The Assassin from Apricot City).
Jacek Hugo-Bader wrote that this book is about how uncomfortable it is to stand with your legs wide apart. This standing astride refers to Turkey and is symbolized by the Bosphorus strait, which divides said country into European and Asian parts.
Inside every Turk there is such a strait. Turks circle between tradition and modernity hundreds of times each day. Between a hat and a yashmak. Between a mosque and a discotheque. Between the European Union and dislike towards it – says an Instanbul poet and friend of the Polish author.
The work on the reportage To z miłości, siostro (It’s Out of Love Sister) was emotionally very demanding. Around the world, fathers love their daughters and brothers defend their sisters. In the conservative east of Turkey, it happens that fathers and brothers kill their daughters and sisters for staining the honour of the family. People of the West find the reasons for the killings trivial: one girl was walked back home by a male friend; another girl sent a text message with birthday wishes for her boyfriend to a radio station; someone spread a rumour that a wife isn’t faithful to her husband, who is in the army. When Szabłowski returned to Poland he often dreamt of a plateau: arid, devoid of plants, covered with rocks. Such a landscape may be found in the vicinity of the city Diyarbakir, close to the village Yalim.
He never judges his heroes. He tries to understand them. Sometimes that isn’t possible.
He believes that a reporter cannot change another person’s fate.
I’m a channel that provides readers with more nuances of a story than short press informations.
The book Nasz mały PRL (Our Little Communist Poland) is a record of an experiment conducted on a living organism. A few years ago Szabłowski and a photojournalist of Gazeta Wyborcza Albert Zawada were traveling through Cuba. For the journey they rented a car. They encountered the same view over and over again: in cities, little towns and villages people were spending time together: watching television, drinking rum, talking, playing football.
Here it is exactly the same as it was in my childhood – gasped Witold. Albert confirmed.
Szabłowski decided to check if by any chance we hadn't lost something valuable on the way from real socialism to capitalism.
You must be crazy if you think I’m going to let you do this on your own! – cried his wife Iza, an anthropologist by education, a journalist by profession.
They moved into a concrete block of flats, they chose not to use the internet and cell phones, they prepared dishes recommended by the magazine Przyjaciółka, which was very popular in communist Poland, and they gave their daughter toys that remembered the communist era. They stood in queues, sent postcards instead of e-mails, bought only what was available during the PRL (their daughter cried 'there are no bananas in pelelel'). They searched for communal life in places where it no longer exists. It turns out, going back just 30 years in time is a real 'survival' a radical change on every level. For Meyza and Szabłowski it wasn't only role-play but also an attempt to diagonose contemporary times.
Conclusions? Witold: My friend posted the following words on his facebook wall: there’s too much of me here and too little of how are you doing? This probably sums up our times very accurately.
Szabłowski's following book, Dancing Bears, is a collection of reportages, mostly about the central-european road to freedom. Animals from the title serve as a metaphor: not long ago, in Bulgaria, it was still possible to see them during feasts and markets, even in public trams. When the country joined the European Union, bear training was banned. They were given their freedom back. But is freedom always an unequivocally positive thing?
The book starts with a conversation with one of the former bear owners. The separation is a tragedy for him. He claims he treated the animal as a member of is family, never hit it but, on the contrary, cared for it as much as he could. It's symbolic, that the bears are transported in cages to get their freedom. Used to living among people, they feel disoriented. They touch their suddenly ring-free noses with their paws. They cannot get food on their own, they learn to hibernate, and are castrated as not resourceful (would they be able to teach their children anything?). What's more, their freedom is limited by an electric fence. 'Freedom is extremely complicated. It should be dosed carefully' - says one of the new caretakers - wrote Małgorzata I. Niemczyńska (instytutksiazki.pl) .
Prestigious British publisher Penguin Random House bought the rights for Dancing Bears.
In the second half of 2016 his new book Sprawiedliwi zdrajcy. Sąsiedzi z Wołynia (Righteous Traitors. Neighbours from Volhynia) will be published. It raises the ever-painful subject of the massacre in Volhynia which still casts a shadow on the relations between Poland and Ukraine.
Publications and Awards:
- Zabójca z miasta moreli (The Assassin from Apricot City - 2010, Wołowiec, Czarne publishing house): Nomination for the literary prize Nike; Beata Pawlak award
- Nasz mały PLR. Pół roku w M- 3 z trwałą, wąsami i maluchem (Our Little Communist Poland. Half a Year in a Three Person Apartment with a Perm, a Moustache and a Fiat 126p– with Izabela Meyza, 2012, Kraków, Znak publishing house)
- Tańczące niedźwiedzie (Dancing Bears, 2014, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Agora)
- Sprawiedliwi zdrajcy. Sąsiedzi z Wołynia (Righteous Traitors. Neighbours from Volhynia, 2016, Kraków, wyd. Znak)
- Award of the European Parliament for the reportage Dzisiaj przypłyną tu dwa trupy (Today Two Corpses Will Float to This Place) which tells about illegal immigration to the European Union (the text appeared in Duży Format, the book includes an extended version of the reportage, which is entitled Czyściciele Stambułu – The Cleaners of Istanbul).
- Amnesty International award for the reportage on honour killings.
- The Assassin From Apricot City, (Zabójca z miasta moreli ) trans. Antonia Lioyd - Jones, Stork Press, Nov 2013
- Weil ich dich liebe, Schwester. Reportagen aus der Türkei, transl. Joanna Manc, Vliegen Verlag, 2015.
- Убийца из города абрикосов, transl. Madina Alekseeva, Corpus, 2015.
- Убивця з міста абрикосів, transl. Dzvinka Matiyash, Tempora, 2012.
Translated by: Marek Kępa; updated by NMR, August 2016.