Heinz Janisch

Portrait Heinz Janisch
© Hartwig Klappert

Heinz Janisch was born in Güssing, in the Austrian state of Burgenland and studied German literature and journalism at the University of Vienna.  Since 1982 he has been working as a freelancer for ORF-radio and is the chief editor of the series ‘Menschenbilder’. Since the publication of his first children’s book ‘Mario, der Tagmaler’ (1989; Engl: Mario the Daypainter), he has produced a number of picture books, poetry collections and stories for children and adults.  Heinz Janisch is capable of bestowing his texts with a lyric note and of carrying the magic of poetry into the world of children’s literature. The tone of his language, the surprising twists, and the ability to lyrically bring figures and objects to life make Heinz Janisch inimitable and unmistakable (“1001 Buch”). ‘Ich schenk Dir einen Ton aus meinem Saxofon’ (Engl: I’ll Give You a Tone from my Saxophone) – a collection of whimsical tales and pleasurable verses for children over the age of seven – was a big success. The individual texts encapsulate themes that are close to both adults and children: the self, the home, grandparents, animals, love, hopes and dreams.  In Janisch’s texts, familiar things and events mutate, gain new contours, an unusual strangeness: a house has a headache and moves to the country, a cactus shaves and makes its way to the sea, and a frog wants to travel to Africa in a Jaguar. Sensitively and fleet-footedly, the author traces the meanings of words, revealing a quiet observer and a carefree daydreamer.  The effect which grows from his texts and Linda Wolfsgruber’s insistent black and white illustrations is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes high-spirited. “Yesterday my house was drunk! Stood there and stumbled and mumbled and growled / and sang very loudly!”. In his picture book about the resolute ‘Prinzessin auf dem Kürbis’ (1998; Engl: Princess on the Pumpkin) he depicts a new image of a princess, which no longer has anything to do with the princess and the pea.  Using magical pictures, also illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber, his picture book fluctuates between a fairytale tone and the fresh and cheeky comments of the emancipated princess.  In his tragicomic story about a bird, the author uses a fine sense of humour and a great deal of empathy to unfold the psychosis of the little bird Sigmund, who, after falling from his nest, can only croak “Zack bumm!”. Illustrated by Helga Bansch, it tells the tale of Sigmund’s healing on the big grass-green “reflecting sofa”, which belongs to the old and white hare Carl Gustav. Following the publication of ‘Schenk mir Flügel’ (2003; Engl: Give Me Wings) is a picture book for all ages, ‘Einer für alle! Alle für einen!’  (Engl: One for All, All for One!) and »Ein ganz gewöhnlicher Montag« (Engl: Just an Ordinary Monday) came out in 2004. In the picture book »Rote Wangen« (2005; t: Red cheeks) the reader learns how deep and loving the relationship between two generations can be beyond death. To a grandson, the fantastic and adventurous stories once told him by his beloved grandfather about his own life cannot be forgotten. In the memory of these stories the old man lives on for his grandchild. The book, sensitively illustrated by Aljoscha Blau, was nominated for the German Young People’s Literature Prize and received the renowned Bologna Ragazzio Award 2006. In Janisch’s children’s book »Schatten« (t: Shadows), the young reader accompanies Sven on his fantastical excursion into the city, during which the shadows come to life and frolic behind their casters’ backs.

Heinz Janisch has already received numerous awards for his children’s books, including the Österreichischer Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis (1998, 1999, 2001) as well as the Kinderbuchpreis der Stadt Wien several times. He is a member of the Grazer Autorenversammlung and lives in Vienna and in Burgenland.

© international literature festival berlin