The celebration of one literary laureate kicked off when the Swedish Academy in Stockholm awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature to German-Romanian Herta Mϋller October 8, 2009. The celebration of another literary laureate got underway October 7, when Amiri Baraka, one of African America’s greatest statesmen of letters, turned 75, and plans were announced to honor the venerable author October 10 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City.
Pairing the announcement that Mϋller–who resides in Berlin–won the Nobel Prize in Literature with that of a celebration in honor of Baraka–who lives an entire ocean away in Newark, NJ–might strike some as odd. But in fact it is quite appropriate when considering both authors were born into an ethnic group described as a minority in their homelands, both have produced works which created political uproars, and both have published writings in multiple genres.
The 2009 Nobel Literary Laureate
Mϋller was born August 17, 1953, in the small town of Nitzkydorf in Banat, Romania, where the dominant language was German. Her father served in the Nazi Party’s Waffen SS during World War II and her mother spent five years in a work camp in the Ukraine. The future Nobel Laureate studied German and Romanian literature at Temeswar (Timişoara) University where she developed an affiliation with a group of German-speaking authors, called Aktionsgruppe Banat, who promoted freedom of speech in protest against Nicholas Ceauşescu’s iron curtain dictatorship.
Müller’s social and political concerns found expression through her 1982 debut collection of short stories, Niederungen (or Valleys) followed by Drückender Tango (Oppressive Tango) in 1984. Niederungen was censored in Romania but later published uncensored in Germany. In the land of her birth, Müller was severely criticized and eventually prohibited from publishing. In Germany she was lauded for her depiction of the bigotry, repression, and corruption that characterized life in a small German-speaking village. She emigrated to Germany with her husband, author Richard Wagner, in 1987.
Great Expectations Realized
Since leaving Romania, she has published more than twenty books in German, Spanish, Swedish, French and German. A collection of collage poetry, entitled "Is it Ion or Not" became her first title published in Romanian in 2005. Her best-selling works on Amazon at the time of the Nobel announcement were the titles "The Land of Green Plums" and "Herztier." Major awards accumulated on Müller’s way to winning the Nobel include: the German Kleist Award, the Irish IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Critical Prize for Literature, the Berlin Literary Prize, and many more.
Upon receiving notification that she had won the Nobel, an overwhelmed Mϋller told the Associated Press, "I am very surprised and still can not believe it. I can’t say anything more at the moment."
Mϋller is the twelfth woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and the tenth German to win it. The Ladbrokes gambling organization gave her a 50/1 chance, far behind favorites Amos Oz and Assia Djebar, of winning the award. The Nobel Prize comes with a monetary prize of $1.4 million (10 million kronor) and will be handed out Dec. 10 in the Swedish capital.
Plick Click for Part 2: Literary Lion Amiri Baraka