Jacek Dehnel

Portrait Jacek Dehnel
© Hartwig Klappert

Polish writer, translator, and painter Jacek Dehnel was born in Gdańsk in 1980 to a visual artist mother and engineer father. After attending high school, he completed a interdisciplinary degree in the humanities at the University of Warsaw.

In 1999, Dehnel made his debut as a writer with the story collection »Kolekcja« (tr: Collection). His first novel »Lala« was published in 2006 (German 2008). In extremely illustrative language, Dehnel tells the life story of his grandmother through conversations with her and also outlines the contours of events of the 20th century. As a descendent of the lost world of the Polish landed nobility, Lala lived through the catastrophic attack by the Wehrmacht on Poland and the subsequent occupation of her homeland, which above all, led to a deterioration of previously held values. Nevertheless, with bravery and charm, she asserts herself over the German occupiers. With his debut novel, Dehnel not only became the star of the young Polish literary scene, he also gained international fame. In his novel »Saturn. Czarne obrazy z życia mężczyzn z rodziny Goya« (2011; tr: Saturn. Black Pictures of the Goya Family), Dehnel uses ingenuity and poetry in his reconstruction of the biography of Francisco de Goyaʼs only son. Not only has Javier lived in the shadow of his famous and tyrannical father for his whole life, but is also inferior to him in the eyes of his own wife and son. Dehnel’s analysis of the family drama over three generations culminates in the theory that the fresco cycle of the »black pictures« was not painted by Francisco but by his son Javier.

Dehnel has been publishing poetry at regular intervals since 2004. His work »Języki obce«  (2013; tr: foreign languages) was nominated for the Wisława Szymborska Prize. Dehnel has translated works by Philip Larkin, Kārlis Vērdiņš, Edmund White, and Francis Scott Fitzgerald into Polish. Between 2006 and 2009, he hosted the cultural program »ŁOSssKOT« on Polish television together with musician Tymon Tymański and journalist Maciej Chmiel. In 2017, he wrote the screenplay for the award-winning experimental animated film »Loving Vincent« about the life of the painter Vincent van Gogh and the circumstances surrounding his death. He was a member of Galeria Zachęta’s program board, columnist for literature at »Wirtualna Polska« and »Polityka«, and is co-founder and chairman of the association Unia Literacka. For his literary work, Dehnel has received the 2005 Kościelski Prize and the 2007 Paszport Polityki Prize awarded by the weekly magazine »Polityka«. He received the Culture Prize of the City of Gdansk in 2009. He was also nominated five times for the renowned Polish literary prize Nike. The author lives in Warsaw. He is a 2020 guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.


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