The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> German Literature
Günter Grass

Nobel Prize-winning playwright, novelist, essayist

Gunter Grass

Günter Wilhelm Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), on October 16, 1927, the son of Polish-German parents. He was educated at Danzig Volksschule and Gymnasium, and joined the Hitler Youth in the late 1930's. Drafted into the German Army at the age of 16, he was wounded in battle in 1945. Because he served briefly in the Waffen SS, he was imprisoned by American forces in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia; he was freed in 1946.

After his release from prison, Grass supported himself by working on farms, in a potash mine, and as a stonemason's apprentice in Paris and Berlin until enrolling as a student of painting and sculpture at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf, in 1948. He subsequently studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in West Berlin, 1953-1955. In between his studies he made journeys to Italy, France and Spain. He worked as a sculptor and writer in Paris from 1956 to 1960.

Grass became active in politics after settling in West Berlin in 1960. He served as a writer and campaigner for the Social Democratic Party, and worked as a ghost-writer for Willy Brandt, who served as Chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1992.

Grass began writing poetry while studying in Düsseldorf and Berlin. His first book of poetry was published in 1956. His first play, Hochwasser (Flood), was produced in 1957. But he would not gain notoriety until publication of Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), in 1959. The novel caused a furor in Germany because of its depiction of the Nazis. The central character, Oscar Matzerath, refuses to grow as a protest against the cruelties of German history and communicates only through his toy drum. The novel was turned into a film by Volker Schlöndorff in 1979.

Most of Grass's fiction is a blend of realism, the macabre, fantasy, and symbolism. It usually depicts the struggle of a man, himself often grotesque in form or in his perceptions, to maintain his individuality in the materialistic nightmare of contemporary life.

Grass also published several collections of essays, most of them embedded in historical context and critical of contemporary culture and politics.

In addition to a number of other prizes and awards, Grass was the recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in Lübeck, Germany, on April 13, 2015.

His Writings

Die Vorzüge der Windhühner (1956)
Hochwasser [Flood] (play, 1956)
Onkel, Onkel [Mister, Mister] (play, 1957)
Noch zehn Minuten bis Buffalo [Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo] (play, 1957)
Die bösen Köche [The Wicked Cooks] (play, 1957)
Beritten hin und zurück [Rocking Back and Forth] (play, 1958)
32 Zähne (1958)
Stoffreste (text for ballet, 1959)
Die Blechtrommel [The Tin Drum] (1959)
Gleisdeik (1960)
Hochwasser [Flood] (novelization of play, 1960)
Die bösen Köche [The Wicked Cooks] (novelization of play, 1961)
Katz und Maus [Cat and Mouse] (depicts the experiences of lower-middle-class youth in Danzig between 1939 and 1944, 1961)
Hundejahre [Dog Years] (1963)
Die Ballerina (1963)
Poum; Oder, die Vergangenheit fliegt mit (1965)
Die Plebejer proben den Aufstand [The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising: A German Tragedy] (play, 1966)
Davor (play, year unknown)
Selected Poems (English edition only, 1966)
Aufgefragt [New Poems] (1967)
Four Plays (English translations of Flood; Mister, Mister; Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo; and, The Wicked Cooks, 1967)
Briefe über die Grenze (1968)
Tschechoslowakei (1968)
Über meinen lehrer Döblin, und andere Vorträge (comic fantasy in which his declares his debt to writer-politician Alfred Döblin, 1968)
Über das Selbsverständliche [Speak Out: Speeches, Open Letters, Commentaries] (collection of political writings, 1968)
Poems of Günter Grass (English edition only, 1969)
Örtlich Betäubt [Local Anaesthetic] (1969)
Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke [From the Diary of a Snail] (a "diary" of his travels as a campaigner for the Social Democratic Party and Brandt in the 1969 election, 1972)
Mariazuehren [Inmarypraise] (1973)
Der Bürger und Seine Stimme [The Citizen and His Voice] (collection of speeches and essays, 1974)
Liebe Geprüft (1974)
Derr Butt [The Flounder] (spans time from prehistoric matriarchy to Gdansk shipyards of 1970s; portrays the development of civilization as a struggle between men's destructive dreams of grandeur and female accomplishment, 1976)
In the Egg and Other Poems (English edition only, 1977)
Denkzettel (1978)
Das Treffen in Telgte [The Meeting at Telgte] (1979)
Kopfgeburten: oder de Deutschen sterben aus [Headbirths; or, The Germans are Dying Out] (1980)
Aufsätze zur Literatur (1980)
Wiederstand lernen (1984)
Dokumente zur politischen Wirkung [On Writing and Politics] (collection of essays, 1985)
Die Rättin [The Rat] (the narrator receives a female rat as a present; she demonstrates in several stories how rats will inherit the earth, 1986)
Zunge Zeigen [Show Your Tongue] (a collection of impressions from a visit to India in 1975, 1988)
Deutscher Lastenausgleich (1990)
Two States--One Nation? (German title unknown, a plea for two distinct Germanys, rather than one under a powerful West Germany, 1990)
Gegen die Verstreichendezeit (1991)
Unkenrufe [The Call of the Toad] (two widows, a German art historian, and a Polish art restorer go into business together returning the remains of Germans exiled after the war to Danzig, 1992)
Cat and Mouse and Other Writings (English edition only, 1994)
Ein weites Feld [Too Far Afield] (set in the years of German reunification, 1989-1991; the first major literary work to deal with this event after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1995)
Die Deutschen und ihre Dichter (1995)
Novemberland: Selected Poems, 1956-1993 (English edition only, 1996)
Fundsachen für Nichleser (1997)
Gestern, vor 50 jahren [Just Yesterday, Fifty Years Ago] (1999)
Mein Jahrhundert [My Century] (a year-by-year commentary on the 20th century presented from a personal point of view, 1999)
Fünf Jahrzehnte (2001)
Im Krebsgang [Crabwalk] (dealt with the sinking of German liner "Wilhelm Gustloff" by Soviet submarine in January 1945, 2002)
Letzte Tänze (2003)
Beim Häuten der Zwiebel [Peeling the Onion] (account of Grass's first 32 years, in which he revealed his service in the SS, 2006)

Other Information

As a graphic artist, Grass created many of the covers and illustrations for his works.

He was coeditor of L from 1976 to his death, and became associated with Verlag L '80 publishers in 1980. He served as president of the Berlin Academy of Arts, 1983-1986.

Grass married Anna Margareta Schwartz in 1954; the couple divorced in 1978. He married Ute Grunert in 1979.

Prizes and Awards

Gruppe 47 Prize, 1958
Critics' Prize (Germany), 1960
Foreign Book Prize (France), 1962
Bühner Prize, 1965
Fontane Prize, 1968
Heuss Prize, 1969
Mondello Prize (Palermo), 1977
Carl von Ossiersky Medal, 1977
Majakowski Medal, 1977
Viareggio-Versilia Prize, 1978
Feltrinelli Prize, 1982
Leonhard Frank Ring, 1988

See Also

Nobel Prize for Literature

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> German Literature

This page was last updated on 12/27/2018.