Reporter and writer. She was born in 1972. Winner of journalistic and literary awards. Author of the book "1945. War and Peace, which entered the Nike 2016 final and won the Gazeta Wyborcza Readers' Award.
Reporterka i pisarka.
Magdalena Grzebałkowska graduated in history from the University of Gdańsk. Since 1998 she has worked as a reporter for "Gazeta Wyborcza". She lives in Sopot.
She has won the Grand Press Award, the Silesian Wawrzyn Literary Award and the Tadeusz Mazowiecki Polish-German Journalist Award.
Loneliness of the poet
Her famous book debut, Ksiądz Paradoks. Biografia Jana Twardowskiego (Father Paradox. Biography of Jan Twardowski, trans. by A.P.) was published in 2011. The author reached for unknown notes of a clergyman, thanks to which she broke his stereotype of "ladybug poet". "One can say opposing things about him and all will turn out to be true" – she proves with her book.
Ksiądz Paradoks is an extraordinary story of a man who escapes all labels. The author analyses his irresistible need for friendship with women. The priest's naive or only good-natured naivety was the reason for his long-standing contacts with a secret police officer under the communist regime. She reflects on the feeling of loneliness of Fr Jan Twardowski, the author of the famous poem, which begins with the phrase: "Let us hurry to love people, so quickly they leave." Jacek Hugo-Bader wrote:
The biography of a man who has vowed poverty, chastity and obedience. Boring? If I didn't know the author, I would never read this book in my life. And that would be the greatest loss. I went crazy with the first chapter. And when I got to the part about toupee adhesive... It's thrilling! What a life! What a style!
Ksiądz Paradoks brings us closer to our youth, the beginnings of our extraordinary popularity and the last, most mysterious years of the poet's life in the cassock. As reviewed by Mariusz Szczygieł:
Magda Grzebałkowska wrote a fantastic book [...]. She wrote it wisely and with humour. I have an impression that Father Twardowski, with his witty and bright approach to the world, got a witty and bright biographer.
As simply as possible
Another important book by Magdalena Grzebałkowska is Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny (Beksińscy: Double Portrait, trans. by A.P.), for which she was awarded a Śląski Wawrzyn Literacki in a poll of readers of the Silesian Library in Katowice. The publication acknowledged as the Book of the Year 2014 and received almost half of all votes cast in the poll: 49.56 percent.
Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny is a story about a father and son. About the search for love and the inability to express it, which is reflected in the tagline on the front cover:
Zdzisław Beksiński never hits his son. Zdzisław Beksiński never hugs his son.
Zdzisław Beksiński went down in the history of Polish art as one of the most interesting but also controversial painters. His son Tomasz was a fervent music journalist. Both of them were outstanding in their fields.
They were also like-minded in their fascination with the atmosphere of horror, the mystery of the world of demons and monsters. They both died in dramatic circumstances. The son committed suicide, the father was murdered. Magdalena Grzebałkowska spoke at the award ceremony:
I achieved what I cared about the most – I don't judge, readers give their opinion. I didn't know my characters personally, but I think it's good for a reporter, it was good for me, because a distanced perspective sometimes gives a better view.
The author believes that she does not create biographies, only large reportages. "But isn't the reportage included in the biography? I don't know. Anyway, I have not analysed Beksinski's painting as an art critic, and I have not analysed Father Twardowski's poems from a literary angle."
The life and death of Zdzisław and Tomasz Beksiński were, in her opinion, so incredible that it was enough to write about them as simply as possible. In an interview with Agnieszka Sowińska, she said:
It is no Fall of the House of Usher. Nor did I assume that Tomek was so bizarre because he lived under his father's paintings. If you look at it that way, we're all freaks, just see what we watch on TV... We have such images in our homes today that Beksinski's paintings are like illustrations in children's books." ("Biograf musi być bezwzględny" [A Biographist Must be Ruthless, trans. by A.P.] Dwutygodnik.com]
A time of uncertain hope
In 2016, Magdalena Grzebałkowska became a finalist of the Nike Literary Award for her volume of reportages 1945. Wojna i Pokój (1945. War and Peace, trans. by A.P.). For the text Śpiewać, Hitlerówy! (Sing, Hitler’s Girls!, trans. by A.P.) printed in "Duży Format", which entered the book, she received the Tadeusz Mazowiecki 2015 Polish-German Journalism Award. The same year, Grzebałkowska's book received the Teresa Torańska Award for "an outstanding historical reportage about the years of recovering from the war trauma, but also about the time of hope."
Magdalena Grzebałkowska (born 1972) asks her grandmother Władysława Gawryluk (born 1926) about the end of the war. About the sailor who kissed the nurse in Times Square, about fireworks in Warsaw. Her grandma smiles with pity. Małgorzata Szejnert wrote:
1945, I was nine years old. I read Magdalena Grzebałkowska's book astonished how little I know about this moment between a terrible war and uncertain hope. And what do those born a quarter or half of a century after me know? About longing, helplessness and cleverness of the first settlers on the Recovered Territories, about the grotesque of looting, about the sinking of the ship MV Wilhelm Gustloff with thousands of German civilians, about the Otwock attempt to bring Jewish orphans back to their childhood, about the settlement of the ruins of Warsaw (the army calls for people to mark places where mines can be placed, preferably with bunches of straw). The author reached out to witnesses and participants of all stories and preserved the language of their stories, with a multitude of astonishing details, tears, thoughts, but also laughter, as in life. It was a year of exceptionally intense life and you can feel it on every page of these great reportages.
1945. Wojna i Pokój is a book that makes the history of 70 years ago very topical again. The author avoided great politics, peace conferences, Churchill with a cigar. "I was curious about ordinary people, lost like me," she says. Marcin Zaremba was handing in:
1945 is a year full of contradictions and chaos. There is everything in it: fervent hopes for the end of war and the bitterness of peace. The joy that we survived and the images of mass exhumations. Heroic reconstruction, looting and corruption. Violence against Poles and of Poles against the "others". The complexity of that time was perfectly captured by Magdalena Grzebałkowska, showing this year from the perspective of ordinary people. A report from the heart of darkness? Battlefields? Not only. It is also a story about a return back to life.
The book 1945. Wojna i Pokój shows how inefficiency, inadequacy and harm of the martyrological paradigm dominating in Poland.
In a book published in 2017, Komeda. Osobiste Życie Jazzu (Komeda. Personal Life of Jazz, trans. by A.P.) Grzebałkowska captured the moral history of jazz in communist Poland through the life of Krzysztof Komeda (Trzciński). She described parties, affairs, the search for Western music and the challenge of surviving from paycheck to paycheck. Grzebalkowska follows the beginnings of Polish jazz. She reviews documents, quotes reviews, conducts interviews and carefully recreates the smallest details related to the scene. We can feel its atmosphere, get to know its faithful fans, among whom the majority was the cinema amateurs: we can meet e.g. Jørgen Leth, Roman Polański and Witold Sobociński. We even learn from the author about fashion and salaries of the era. As Bartek Chaciński reviewed:
Grzebałkowska balances the picture, showing Komeda's departure to America as – to some extent – an escape from his wife. She writes a different recount of events in California, ending in his tragic accident, adds a lot of details about his adolescent years, all the while perfectly describing the atmosphere of the times. When American culture becomes a key point of reference, the Polish authorities try to isolate themselves from the West. This makes the jazzmen rebellious and the unobvious, avant-garde music a social phenomenon ("Polityka", 19.2018).
- Ksiądz Paradoks. Biografia Jana Twardowskiego [Reverend Paradox. Biography of Jan Twardowski], Społeczny Instytut Wydawniczy Znak, Kraków 2011;
- Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny [Beksińscy. Double Portrait], Społeczny Instytut Wydawniczy Znak, Kraków 2014;
- 1945. Wojna i Pokój [1945. War and Peace], Wydawnictwo Agora SA, Warszawa 2015;
- Komeda. Osobiste Życie Jazzu [Komeda. Personal Life of Jazz], Społeczny Instytut Wydawniczy Znak, Kraków 2018.
- 2002 – Siłaczka [Strongwoman], documentary film, television – screenplay (together with Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, director)
Awards and distinctions
- 2005 – Prof. Stefan Myczkowski Award (one of the Awards of the Association of Polish Journalists) – for publications on environmental protection problems;
- 2008 – Stefan Żeromski Award (one of the Awards of the Association of Polish Journalists) – for publications on social issues (again in 2010);
- 2009 – Grand Press in the category of specialist journalism;
- 2010 – Stefan Żeromski Award (one of the Polish Journalists Association Awards) – for publications on social issues (previously in 2008);
- 2014 – Śląski Wawrzyn Literacki – for her book Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny;
- 2015 – finalist of the Literary Award for the Author of Gryfia – for the book Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny;
- 2014 – nomination for the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage – for the book Beksińscy. Portret Podwójny;
- 2015 – nomination for the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage – for his book 1945. Wojna i Pokój;
- 2015 – Tadeusz Mazowiecki Polish-German Journalist Award – for the text Śpiewać, Hitlerówy!;
- 2015 – Teresa Torańska Newsweek Award for the best book – for 1945. Wojna i Pokój;
- 2016 – finalist of the Nike Literary Award – for her book 1945. Wojna i Pokój;
- 2016 – Gazeta Wyborcza Readers' Award – accompanying the Nike Literary Award – for a historical reportage 1945. Wojna i Pokój.
jacek hugo bader
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, September 2016; update: AP, November 2019.