23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Jónás Tamás

Tamás Jónás was born in 1973 to a Roma family in the northern Hungarian town of Ózd, which had been forcibly industrialized in the 1950s. He lived in Csernely until the age of four. When his parents were imprisoned for their debts, he and his siblings were placed in various children’s homes. Jónás also spent some time with foster parents who mistreated him. »This experience has shaped me. Since then, I have known that I can only rely on myself.« At the age of six he returned to his parents and from then on lived in Szombathely. He studied Hungarian and Sanskrit at the Széchenyi István Technical College in Győr, at the Eötvös-Loránd University in Budapest, and at a Buddhist school. He has published his poems since the age of 16, and since then has released eight collections of poetry. The literary role models who inspired the creation of his own style were François Villon, Attila József, and the Hungarian poets of the 19th century. Jónás has often been referred to as a Roma poet, a categorization that he personally perceives as a restriction. Nevertheless, the existential experience of belonging to the Roma is, on the one hand, a part of his poetry; on the other hand, with his works he lends a voice to the Roma and their world.

At the age of 22, he wrote the autobiographical novel »Cigányidők« (2009; tr: Gypsy Times), in which he deals with his early childhood experiences. In his subsequent prose texts, too, Jónás writes mainly about people on the margins of society – Sinti and Roma, the desperate, the homeless. Péter Esterházy said about him: »Tamás Jónas is full of stories about poverty, vulnerability, pain, love, the body, wealth, and poverty – he is full of stories, full of talent.« »Als ich noch Zigeuner war« (tr: When I Was a Gypsy), a collection of novellas and poems, was published in German in 2006. In addition to traumatic memories, the lyrics also deal with observations from his environment: childlike experiences, first love and the pain it causes, and the mockery by his classmates because of his origins. His sober, sometimes ballad-like narrative style contrasts with the cruelty of the suffering. In 2008 the volume »Fünfunddreißig« (tr: Thirty-Five) was published in German translation with stories and poems in which the atmosphere of existential desolation is dominant and the characters are constantly exposed to questions of guilt, exclusion, and injustice.

Jónás also works as a journalist and editor of www.dokk.hu, a literary website. He is also a presenter on Radio C, a Hungarian Roma station. He was a Herder scholarship recipient, among others. In 2009 he was awarded the Hungarian Aegon Art Prize for his poetry collection »Önkéntes vak« (tr: Voluntarily Blind). The author lives in Budapest.