Jovan Nikolić was born in 1955 in Belgrade and grew up in a Roma settlement near the Serbian town of Čačak. His parents played in a band, his father as a saxophonist, his mother as a singer. He thus spent his childhood in hotels in many cities across the former Yugoslavia. Starting in 1982, he worked in Belgrade as a journalist for various Serbian and Roma media. Nikolić was a critic of the Slobodan Milošević regime and emigrated as a persecuted writer during the NATO bombing in Serbia.
Jovan Nikolić’s literary output includes poetry, prose, lyrics, plays, and librettos. He has published 19 books to date and his poetry and prose have been translated into ten European languages. In 2004 his poetry collection »Zimmer mit Rad« (tr: The Room with a Wheel) was published in German translation. “»Weißer Rabe, schwarzes Lamm« (2006; tr: White Crow, Black Sheep) was selected as the »Book for the City« in Cologne in 2011. Other works by Nikolić include the prose volume »Seelenfänger, lautlos lärmend« (2011, tr: Soul Snatcher, Soundlessly Noisy), in which he deals with exile and the experience of strangeness, as well as »Das Orchester der Frauen, die mich verlassen haben« (2016: tr: The Orchestra of the Women Who Left Me), a prose text in memory of the Yugoslavian Riviera of the 1960s and 70s. Poems by Nikolić also recently appeared in the anthology »Die Morgendämmerung der Worte. Moderner Poesie-Atlas der Roma und Sinti« (2018; tr: The Dawn of Words. Modern Atlas of Roma and Sinti Poetry). In these texts, he mocks the rigors of everyday life, such as ageing, on the one hand and settles the score regarding the clichés about Roma on the other.
Nikolić was vice president of the International Roma Union from 1999 to 2005. He has has received a number of Yugoslavian and international literary awards and was a writer in residence in Vienna, Graz, Salzburg, Trévérien, Split, Schöppingen, at the Akademie der Künste Berlin, at the P.E.N.-Zentrum Deutschland, at the Heinrich-Böll-Haus in Langenbroich and at the University of Innsbruck. He lives in Cologne.