Wolfgang Hilbig (1941 – 2007) grew up in East Germany (The German Democratic Republic, GDR). He is recognized as one of the most important German writers of the late 20th century. He dropped out of the East German school system after graduating from eighth grade, and lived with his illiterate grandfather, apprenticing as a machinist and then eventually “graduating” to work as a furnace stoker. In his free time he wrote. His works in the communist police state were rebuked, and he joined and was ejected from various state sanctioned writer’s groups. His writing was unacceptable to the authorities, but he kept at it. One poem after the next, one story, one novella — they went from his writing desk into his writing desk drawer.
Several East German writers of note interceded on his behalf including Christa Wolf and Hans Mangus Enzensberger. They used their influence to get his manuscripts into the hands of editors at the West German publisher S. Fischer. His first book of poems, abwesenheit, was published by S. Fisher in 1979, and contained material from 1965 to 1977 — all of it rejected and considered unpublishable by state functionaries in the GDR. Yet it was received with praise by literary critics and writers in West Germany.
Wolfgang Hilbig remained troublesome for the government, but the GDR had methods to deal with individuals like Hilbig, who were too well-known in the West to imprison without creating bad press: They granted him permission to move permanently to West Germany, which he did in 1985.
He won many of Germany’s highest literary honors, and in 2003 was awarded the highest prize given in German Literature: The Georg-Büchner Prize.
Hilbig’s works are now translated into many languages. Though Die Weiber was translated into English in 1990, his major works did not appear published in English until after his death with the publication of Ich (“I”) in 2015 — a full quarter of a century later. It was Isabel Fargo Cole’s persistent and excellent translation efforts, along with Seagull Books and Two Lines Press, that brought Wolfgang Hilbig’s work to the English speaking public for the first time.
ECP Books is quite thrilled to soon present his first published collection of poetry, abwesenheit, in English.
Works and licensed English translations:
- Abwesenheit (1979). absence (trans. in progress, Skip Rhudy, expected 2022)
- Die Versprengung (1986)
- Bilder vom Erzählen (2001)
Novels, novellas, short stories
- Unterm Neomond (1982)
- Der Brief (1985)
- Die Territorien der Seele (1986)
- Die Weiber (1987). The Females, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2018).
- Eine Übertragung (1989)
- Über den Tonfall (1990)
- Alte Abdeckerei (1991). Old Rendering Plant, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2017).
- Die Kunde von den Bäumen (1992). The Tidings of the Trees, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2018).
- Grünes grünes Grab (1993)
- »Ich« (1993). ‘I’, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2015).
- Die Arbeit an den Öfen (1994)
- Das Provisorium (2000). The Interim, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2021).
- Der Schlaf der Gerechten (2002). The Sleep of the Righteous, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (2015).
- Sphinx (2019)