István Kemény was born in 1961 in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. After finishing school he began studying Law, but then changed to the study of History and Hungarian Literature, and graduated in 1993.
During this period Kemény, whose apartment had been an important meeting place for young writers while he was studying, already played a key role in the Hungarian literary scene. After his first two collections of poetry, »Csigalépcsõ az elfelejtett tanszékekhez« (1984; tr: Spiral Staircase to the Forgotten Faculty) and »Játék méreggel és ellenméreggel« (1987; tr: Game With Poison and Antidote), won widespread acclaim, the author published further poetry collections during the 1980s, as well as his first large prose work, the experimental novel »Az ellenség művészete« (1989; tr: The Art of the Enemy). In addition to the poetry collections, stories and novels which Kémeny continues to publish, he also writes plays and essays. The author’s poetry is known for using traditional symbols like devils and angels to create dark worlds which are on the one hand surreal and diffuse, and on the other hand are always bound to social – and above all historical – realities, the structures of which are exposed in an enlightened manner. In his ironic yet melancholic tone we are in any case constantly meeting with historical matter in Kémeny’s work – especially the history of Europe. In order to approach the past and its secrets in literature, for example, the author interviews family members and documents their recollections on tape. His latest novel, »Kedves Ismeretlen« (2009; tr: Dear Mr. Unknown), also makes use of the motif of that which is hidden in the past. Tamás Krizsán, the narrator, looks back on the history of his Hungarian family, in which lurk apparently unspeakable events whose ramifications echo in the present, and maybe even into the future.
István Kemény has been awarded numerous grants and prizes, including the Déry-Tibor-Award and Hungary’s most prestigious literary award, the József-Attila-Prize, in 1997. He also won the Zelk-Zoltán-Prize in 2001, the JAK Prize in 2004, and the Laurel Award of the Hungarian Republic in 2007. Kemény lives and works in Budapest.