Jānis Joņevs was born in Jelgava, southwest of Riga in 1980. He studied cultural studies in Riga and made his debut in 2013 with the autobiographically inspired coming-of-age novel »Jelgava 94« [Eng. »Doom 94«, 2018], which became a bestseller in Latvia and won several awards.
The novel takes place on April 5, 1994, the day Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life. The young people in the Latvian provincial town of Jelgava are not unaffected by this event. 14-year-old Janis, the novel’s narrator, joins the alternative metal subculture and dabbles in rebelliousness, doing all the things that others in the scene do. He attends concerts, gets drunk, starts smoking, starts a band even though he doesn’t really know how to play the guitar, grows his hair out, and wears ripped jeans and T-shirts with band logos. The novel is not, however, limited to its humorous depiction of teenage life and the search for identity typical of that age. With a multitude of cultural, historical, and literary allusions and philosophical observations, it also narrates the country’s history: At the time, Latvia had just regained its independence from the Soviet Union, resulting in economic and social upheaval. »Joņevs is the first writer to evoke the memories of that time through a full-fledged literary account«, said the jury of the European Union Prize for Literature, which the novel won in 2014.
»Jelgava 94« has been translated into several languages and was filmed in 2019, directed by Janis Abele. In 2014, Jānis Joņevs published the children’s book »Slepenie svētki« [tr: Secret Feast]. The short story collection »Tīģeris« [tr: Tiger] was published in 2020 and was awarded the Latvian Literature Prize for the best prose work. Jānis Joņevs represents Latvia in the anthology »Le Grand Tour« , for which the editor Olivier Guez asked one author from each EU member state to write a text about a place of European culture.
In addition to his writing activities, Jānis Joņevs also works as an advertising copywriter, cultural journalist, and translator from French. For example, he translated Ágota Kristóf’s »Le grand cahier« into Latvian. He has also participated in several theater productions as co-director and co-author. He lives in Riga.