22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Michał Książek

Portrait Michał Książek
© Hartwig Klappert

The cultural scholar and ornithologist Michał Książek, born in 1978 in Oraczew in Poland, writes essays, reportages, and poems.

He débuted in 2013 with »Jakuck. Słownik języka« (tr: Yakutsk. A Dictionary of a Place), a book about Siberia. Książek followed the trail of Wacław Sieroszewski (1858–1945), a Polish writer from the Young Poland movement who was exiled to Siberia, where he lived for 15 years, including 12 years with the Yakut people, whose language and customs he studied and documented. Książek describes the history of Yakutsk and its indigenous inhabitants, beginning with the colonial rule by the Cossacks in the early 17th century, moving through the November Revolution and up to today, when the Yakut people are experiencing a national rebirth after the fall of the USSR. In his descriptions, Książek allows himself to use a poetic style that is often almost excessive, indulging in metaphors and symbols, as if he wanted to capture the environment through the eyes of the native people who live with a close relationship to nature. In 2014, Książek published the poetry collection »Nauka o ptakach« (tr: The Study of Birds), which won the Wrocław Silesius Poetry Award. The poetry volume »Północny wschód« (tr: Northeast) followed three years later, for which he was nominated for the 2018 Orfeusz Mazurski Prize. In his travel reportage »Droga 816« (tr: Highway 816) Ksiᶏżek describes the impressions from his five long walks along the road in Poland that gives the reportage its title, a road he followed from north to south along the Polish-Belarussian and Polish-Ukrainian borders – parallel to the Bug River and to the border between the European Union and the eastern European countries that do not belong to the EU. Ksiᶏżek not only describes Europe’s last remaining virgin forest Białowieża with its astonishing biodiversity – especially rare birds that have long since disappeared elsewhere. It is also about the history of this region, which he brings alive via the memories of the people he meets along the way. The border region is the home of different ethnicities, creeds, and cultures, part of Catholic Poland, home of Orthodox Ukrainians, a hideout for smugglers. The German concentration camp Sobibór was located right on Highway 816 during the Nazi era, and Treblinka is also close by. With poetic language, in »Highway 816« the author combines descriptions of nature with historiography. For this work, Ksiᶏżek earned the 2016 Gdynia Literature Prize in the essay category and was nominated for numerous other Polish prizes.

Ksiᶏżek is actively involved in a citizen’s initiative against deforestation in the Białowieża National Park, where he also lives today.