Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. He moved to East Berlin in 1985, where he began studying theater but soon decided to focus on writing. He studied quantum physics and neurology, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Frankfurt School, and the French structuralists. In collaboration with painters, photographers, and performance artists, he was active in various magazine, exhibitions, and publishing projects. In 1986 he met Heiner Müller, who introduced him to Siegfried Unseld.
Grünbein’s first volume of poetry, »Grauzone morgens« [tr: Gray Area in the Mornings] was published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 1988. His texts from 1985 to 1988 are sober snapshots that convey an authentic impression of the attitude to life in the urban centers of the GDR. This was followed in 1991 by the highly acclaimed volume »Schädelbasislektion« [tr: Skull Base Lesson], whose cycles of poems address the period before, during, and after the fall of the Wall. Grünbein dissects the place of thought in polished language and with cerebral motifs. In »Falten und Fallen« [1994; tr: Folds and Traps] Grünbein continues his poetic concept of analytical lyricism between language and the physical: »The poem ideally presents thinking in a sequence of physiological short circuits. Every discharge is immediately followed by a build-up of tension and vice versa. The energy for this is supplied by a complex that is actually inadequately labeled ›body‹ because it goes much deeper under the skin.«
In his following poetry volumes, he increasingly sought a dialogue with the great poets of world literature, both formally and thematically. »Vom Schnee« [2003; tr: On Snow] is a portrait of the philosopher René Descartes in the form of an epic poem consisting of 24 chapters. Inspired by his stay in Rome as a scholarship holder at the Villa Massimo, he created »Aroma – Ein römisches Zeichenbuch« [2009; tr: Aroma – A Roman Sketchbook], a kaleidoscope of poems and prose.
Most recently, »Äquidistanz« [tr: Equidistance], his twelfth volume of poetry, was published in 2022. As a precise and subtle observer, Grünbein examines various places in Germany and Italy, finds traces of history in the present, and always remains prepared to encounter himself on his ventures.
Grünbein has also published several collections of essays, numerous contributions to catalogs, an opera libretto, and new translations of plays from antiquity. His work has been translated into several languages. Among other honors, he has received the Peter Huchel Prize for poetry, the Georg Büchner Prize, the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize, the Berlin Literature Prize of the Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung, the Pier Paolo Pasolini Prize, and the Tranströmer Prize of the city of Västerås. In 2003, he was the first non-philosopher to be awarded the Friedrich Nietzsche Prize. Since 2009, he has been a member of the Order Pour le mérite.
He lives in Berlin.