Kornel Filipowicz was a writer, screenwriter, poet, and one of Poland’s most important post-war prosaists. He was a master of the short form, a ‘metaphysical realist’, and an eulogist of the Polish provinces. He was born on 27th October 1913 in Tarnopol and died on 28th February 1990 in Kraków.
Nowelista, powieściopisarz, scenarzysta, poeta. Jeden z najważniejszych powojennych prozaików.
He went to a junior high school for mathematics and natural sciences in Cieszyn, where he met the poet Julian Przyboś. Beginning in 1933, he studied biology at Jagiellonian University. He was a co-editor for the Nasz Wyraz (Our Word) monthly. He debuted with a short story titled Lighter (Zapalniczka, 1934) published in Zaranie Śląskie and with a poem in Gazeta Artystów (Artist’s Gazette).
He described the atmosphere in which his contemporaries had to make moral choices in a novel titled Gołębia Street (1955). It showcased why it was that leftist views and the avant-garde went hand in hand in his generation.
These connections were evident; they were convinced that all the bravest artistic and literary hopes could only be fulfilled in the form of a government which would overthrow old social conventions and transform capitalist, private institutions into social organs serving the nation, created for its benefit and compliant with its needs.
An interest in contemporary art taught to Filipowicz by Przyboś made him an active figure in the world of the avant-garde at that time. He got acquainted with the members of Grupa Krakowska and Cricot Theatre.
After the September Campaign, he fled from imprisonment and worked as an official in a quarry in Zagnańsk, an antique shop in Kraków, and an architectural office. He conspired in Ignacy Fik’s Polish People’s group. He published ten copies of a tome of poems titled Passed By (‘Mijani’) in 1943. After being arrested by the Gestapo in April 1944, he was imprisoned in Groß-Rosen and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.
After the war, he moved to Kraków and married the visual artist Maria Jaremianka (1908-1958). His debut in prose – Serene Landscape (1947) – won him the Literary Award of the City of Kraków. He worked with literary magazines such as Odrodzenie, Dziennik Literacki, Życie Literackie, Tygodnik Powszechny, and Odra. In 1964, he got married for the second time to Maria Próchnicka, an art historian.
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In February 1953, Filipowicz signed the Polish Writers’ Union’s Resolution in Kraków which railed against the communist regime. In a show trail, these authorities sentenced the Catholic priests of the Kraków Curia to death. Then, in late 1975, he signed Memorial 59 – an open letter penned by Poland’s intellectuals protesting against the changes in the constitution of Poland under the communist regime (which affirmed the executive power of the Polish United Workers Party and the unceasing alliance with the USSR). Kornel Filipowicz and Wisława Szymborska – his next life partner – signed both the documents, which testified to their moral backbone.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Filipowicz joined the democratic opposition and the Society of Science Courses. He published in Zapis and other uncensored magazines. He was also a member of the PEN Club and the Polish Writers’ Union’s Kraków branch (as the vice-president beginning with 1980). In 1981, he became the second editor-in-chief of Pismo magazine. After the suspension of the Polish Writers’ Union during the period of martial law and the creation of its mutation by the regime, he co-organised help for his colleagues in need. He was an undisputed authority in the writer community. In 1989, he became the first chairman of the Polish Writers' Association’s Kraków branch.
In the 1980s, he read his works in a spoken monthly NaGłos. In his poem titled Beliefs (Przekonania, 1983), the 70-year-old Kornel Filipowicz confessed:
I am a humble man
I don’t owe the persistence of my beliefs
To great knowledge or high morale
But to stubbornness and hope.
In the 1970s and 1980s, ‘going to Kornel’s place’ was proof of belonging to the literary circle. Young writers flocked to him and wore him out with their works. From 1969 until his death, the writer was in a relationship with the poet Wisława Szymborska but they did not get married.
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‘Die – one does not to that to a cat’, wrote Szymborska of Filipowicz’s cat. The pet was also immortalised in Tadeusz Różewicz’s Chat with a Friend:
[…] the doorbell rings
it’s Wisława, she brought a
(two smoked herrings…
one for Mizia
another one for Kornel)
the black cat sits
on the desk and gazes into my eyes
In the 1950s and 1960s, Kornel Filipowicz and the Różewicz brothers often worked together on screenplays. Director Stanisław Różewicz reminisced:
Every meeting with Kornel made it so that an ordinary hour, a grey day, got enriched with colour and lucidity. When I want to meet my friend today, I reach for his stories. He’s there – looking for the truth, leaning towards the river of time, the mystery of the world, the nature of man.
Life in accordance with the rhythm of nature, especially during his favoured fishing expeditions, allowed him to embrace the everyday struggle against the fate of common men in his work with a calm gaze. His skilfully composed stories have the power of authenticity. Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, known for being slow to praise, wrote:
I think he’s one of our purest, most prominent prosaists, who has managed to master his unpretentiousness and become a virtuoso of it The lack of colour, the apparent greyness of his range, is characteristic of Filipowicz. However, painters very well know how many shades of colour one can draw from a seemingly grey palette.
Originally written in Polish by Janusz R. Kowalczyk, Jan 2013, translated by PG, Apr 2019
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