Hermann Peter Piwitt was born in 1935 in Wohldorf, near Hamburg. He studied literature, philosophy and sociology under the likes of Adorno and Walter Höllerer in Frankfurt, where he grew up, as well as Berlin and Munich. At various times he worked as a journalist and lecturer as well as an editor for the Rowohlt publishing house.
His debut prose works »Herdenreiche Landschaften« (tr:»Herdenreich Landscapes«) appeared in 1965, and were distinguished by an experimental style. Along with the acute sense of history with which he surveys both past epochs and the contemporary status quo, Piwitt also brings to his novels a formal originality, seen in the collage technique of »Rothschilds« (1972), historical picaresque of »Der Granatapfel« (1986; tr: The Pomegranate) as well as the unfathomable torrent of thoughts in »Ein unversöhnlich sanftes Ende« (1998; tr: An irreconcilably gentle end). »Heimat, schöne Fremde« (2010; tr: Homeland, beautiful stranger), which compiles texts from each phase of his career, shows how his numerous essayistic observations are superimposed on his narrative works. In the novella »Erbarmen« (2012; tr: Mercy), Piwitt assumes the perspective of a middle-aged widow, providing trenchant observations of an affair which begins casually before taking an unexpectedly tragic turn when her lover insists on living out a fantasy. »Do eighty years make a life?« asks Piwitt at the beginning of his autobiographical review »Lebenszeichen mit 14 Nothelfern« (2014; tr: Vital signs with 14 emergency carers). The subtitle alone (»Geschichten aus einem kurzen Leben«, tr: Stories from a brief life) subtly hints at the unique brand of irony with which he recalls friends, former teachers and fellow artists. Scenes from childhood are accompanied by sideswipes at the culture industry, reflections on political relations before and after 1968 and an affectionate farewell to his long-time home of Hamburg – episodes which are at the same time a testament to the consistency of his convictions. Thanks to Piwitt’s mature and characteristically laconic style, these miniatures – not necessarily in chronological order – also serve as images of unmediated recollection. Repeatedly, almost imperceptibly, he slips into the present tense, assimilating the process of memory which he readily admits is subject to physical decay. Blunt and laconic he reasons: »Growing old is the dumbest thing that can happen to you. Almost as dumb as being born in the first place.«
Piwitt’s texts have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including »konkret«, »Akzente« and »Sprache im technischen Zeitalter«. He has served as a writer-in-residence at the University of Warwick as well as the Swansea University in Wales. He is a member of the German chapter of PEN. Piwitt lives in Hamburg and Giano dell’Umbria.