Helga M. Novak was born in 1935 in Köpenick, Berlin. She studied Journalism and Philosophy in Leipzig and worked as a technician, laboratory assistant and book-seller. In 1961 she got married and moved to Iceland, where she had her first volume of poems »Ostdeutsch« (Engl: East German) published, which appeared in West Germany as »Ballade von der reisenden Anna« (Engl: The Ballad of Travelling Anna) in 1965. During the same year she moved back to Leipzig and started studying Literature. One year later she was deprived of her GDR citzenship. Since that time she has been a citizen of Iceland and is officially called Maria Karlsdottir. Having resided in Iceland, West Germany, Yugoslavia and Portugal, she now lives in Poland.
Novak never allowed herself to be categorised as a GDR writer, or as a critic of the regime. She maintained an independent stance on the cultural scene, and in addition she refused to conform. »To whom should I conform? I was born in a Childrens Home and my mother left me 14 days later. I was adopted by completely unsuitable parents. To whom should I conform? Then there was the war. I left my parents’ house when I was 15. Then came school and the party and I didn’t want to conform to those things either.« Her childhood and adolescence motivated her volumes »Die Eisheiligen« (1979; Engl: The Icemen) and »Vogel federlos« (1982; Engl: Bird Featherless). It was a time of betrayed hope, intially the hope of a harmonious family during the time of the National Socialists, and later in an elite school the hope of the nascent socialist republic. In a vivid gush of stories Novak combines extensive splinters of memory with clear, lively, and sometimes lyrical language in serial poetic form, largely without commenting.
Her poetry is more expressive and sparser. »Silvatica« is a collection of demure, anxious and self confident love poems. Her semantics are encompassed within the context of the forest, a bleak, unaltered place remote from civilisation, in which the poacher can live out his vulnerable freedom in close connection with his prey. The mythological, biblical and literary pictures and allusions generate a wealth of significance which is unpretentiously kept together by the assonance and internal rhyme scheme in the rhythmically free verses. The cipher of the hunter’s language evokes an alienation of the familiar. A laconic, tender and bitter picture of love is therefore produced; »The hunt will always continue / Love has no off-season«.
Novak has continually been awarded prizes. In 1968 she received the Literature Prize from the Freie Hansestadt Bremen, and in 1979 she was writer in residence for Bergen-Enkheim. Amongst others prizes she was also awarded Darmstadt’s Kranichsteiner Literature Prize (1985), the Brandenburg Literature Prize (1995) and the Ida Dehmel Literature Prize (2001). Her numerous poetry volumes were published in 1999 as a complete collection titled »Solange noch Liebesbriefe eintreffen« (Engl: As Long As Love Letters Arrive).
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