Novelist, poet, essayist, editor Georg Büchner Prize 2016
DAAD scholarship 2011
Marcel Beyer, the explorer. In his poems, novels and essays, he is repeatedly setting out on a voyage of discovery, tracing out winding paths of German history, providing poetic views of fellow writers, photographs and pictures. His volume of poems entitled “Graphit”, which was published in 2014, was praised by critics as “a vast panorama of history and the present” – and in November 2016 the German Academy for Language and Literature awarded Marcel Beyer the Georg Büchner Prize, the German-speaking world’s most prestigious literary award.
I love England. The lousy weather, the poor heating systems – I think it’s just great.
He began his career by studying the work of Friederike Mayröcker. Even before embarking on a master’s programme in German, English and General Literary Studies at the University of Siegen, Beyer was one of the Austrian writer’s most passionate admirers. “At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mayröcker’s publisher encouraged me to contact her,” he explains. Their initial correspondence subsequently led to their establishing personal contact and developing a close cooperation. As an expert on her wide-ranging oeuvre, in 1988 Beyer was asked by the writer to set up a Mayröcker Archive in Vienna, He was editor of the Austrian writer‘s Collected Poems and Collected Prose, which were published by Suhrkamp-Verlag in 2004 and 2007. “The contact to Friederike Mayröcker has never broken off,” says Beyer, “and right now I’m curious about her next book.”
Beyer, who was born in 1965 in Tailfingen, Baden-Württemberg, achieved his own breakthrough as a writer in 1995 with his novel “Flughunde” (translated into English as The Karnau Tapes). “After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, refugee hostels were set on fire in both East and West Germany and a neo-Nazi scene came to public prominence,” says Marcel Beyer. “This contradiction between the reunification euphoria and a German nationalist aggressiveness prompted me to ask at the time how the partition of Germany came about and what sort of mind-set people have who take part in experiments on humans.” In “Flughunde”, the writer embarks on a masterly exploration of German history: the novel tells the story of Hermann Karnau, a guard at the Führer’s bunker and an acoustic researcher; of his experiments with the human voice and his records, which expose the language of the National Socialists as propaganda. National Socialism and German history are to remain a central theme in his novels and poems – again and again Beyer returns to and re-presents the past.
He acquired a new perspective here not least through two DAAD-funded stays in the United Kingdom. In 1996, as Writer in Residence at University College London, he gained insight into university life, which he then deepened in 1998 as Writer in Residence at the University of Warwick in Coventry. “I love England,” says Beyer. “The lousy weather, the poor heating systems and the strange food – I think it’s just great.” In 2011, equipped with a DAAD scholarship, he moved to New York University, where he taught literature as a visiting professor. “That was absolutely marvellous because in the seminars I was not someone imparting knowledge from a writer’s perspective but rather a member of a close-reading group,” says Marcel Beyer whose Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics appeared in book form in April 2017.