Alban Nikolai Herbst was born in 1955 in Refrath. After training to become a paralegal and notary clerk, he studied philosophy, history, and social sciences in Frankfurt am Main.
He made his prose début in fall 1981 with a collection of prose texts entitled »Marlboro«. In the late 1980s, he was a stockbroker and edited the »Dschungelblätter« literary journal. Since the release of his novel »Wolpertinger oder Das Blau« (1993, tr: Wolpertinger or The Blue), he has returned to being a freelance writer. The plot of the 1,000-page text, to an extent part of the fantasy genre and set in pre-1989 West Germany, unfolds in three temporal narrative layers and has three epilogues, each with a different outcome. This ironic take on postmodernism was described as a »monstrous literary discourse about the reality of fantasy and the fantasy of reality« (»KLG«). »Thetis. Anderswelt« (1998, tr: Thetis. Other-World) was the first installment in the »Anderswelt« (tr: Other-World) fantasy trilogy, followed by 2001’s »Buenos Aires. Anderswelt« und 2013’s »Argo. Anderswelt«. The trilogy experiments with an aesthetic reorientation while taking the digital age into account. Conventional structural elements are rejected and the relationship between the narrating subject and object is questioned. The language register of both colloquial and standard speech is mixed with jargon and neologisms. In theoretical texts published in literary journals such as »Schreibheft« and »die horen« as well as in his »Heidelberger Vorlesungen« (2008), Herbst explains the narrative term he conceptualized: »Cybernetic realism is storytelling free in tonality, combining documentation (like autobiography) with fiction, but in a way that multiple possibilities equally coexist and are equally realized.« Herbst’s novel about artists, »Meere« (2003, tr: Seas), is »an account of a man going crazy from his manliness« (»Berliner Zeitung«). It was banned in its year of publication due to the violation of personality rights and was released again in 2016. The topic of his most recent novel »Traumschiff« (2015, tr: Dream Ship) is »secretly quite gigantic« (Insa Wilke), namely, »how we would like to die«. In addition to his prose, Herbst has released six collections of poetry, including »Das bleibende Thier. Bamberger Elegien« (2011, tr: The Animal that Remains: Bamberg Elegies) and the fantastical Stromboli story »Aeolia.Gesang« (2008, new Vienna Edition, 2018).
Herbst has been awarded the Grimmelshausen Prize, a residency grant from the Villa Massimo Rome (1998), a year-long residency at the Villa Concordia Bamberg (2006), the Wetzlar Phantastik-Preis, and was Writer-in-Residence at the Keio University in Tokyo (2000). Since 2004, he has run the literature blog »Dschungel. Anderswelt«. He also writes radio pieces and opera and music critiques. He has lived and worked in Berlin since 1994.