Ottó Tolnai

Ottó Tolnai was born in Kanjiza in the Hungarian speaking region Vojvodina, now a part of Serbia, in 1940.  He studied Hungarian Literature, Linguistics and Philosophy in Novi Sad and Zagreb. In 1956 Tolnai’s first contributions to journals and magazines were published.  His first volume of poetry, ‘Homorú versek’ (Engl: Hollow Verse), which consists of free verse, was published in 1963.  In 1965 he began writing texts for the literary magazine ‘Új Symposion’ (Engl: New Symposium) – an important forum for literature and politics, in which the Hungarian avantgarde was able to express itself freely until its prohibition in 1972 – of  which he would later become chief editor. In 1968 he published a book of poetry called ‘Valóban mi lesz velünk’ (Engl: What Will Become of Us?) jointly with István Domonkos, in which he experimented with both concrete and visual poetry. This was followed in 1969  by ‘Rovarház’ (Engl: Insect House), a seemingly autobiographical debut novel, in which linear narrative conventions are breached by the superimposition of collage-like constructions.  From the early 1970’s until the mid-90’s, Ottó Tolnai was cultural editor of the Hungarian-speaking programme of Radio Novi Sad. As well as writing plays, novels, children’s books and poetry he also published essays and art reviews in the magazine ‘Jelenkor’. Since 1993 he has been chief editor of ‘Ex Symposion’. His poems, prose and drama, which have been published in an edition consisting of around thirty volumes in both Hungary and former Yugoslavia, have earned him numerous prizes, including the Attila József prize in 1991.  ‘Ich kritzelte das Akazienwäldchen in mein Heft’ (2002; Engl: I Scribbled the Acacia Wood into my Notebook) was his first prose volume translated into German.  In this collection of four short stories, all loosely related to one another through intertextual indices, the protagonists’ inner monologues are filled with memories.  Actual experiences and fiction are evoked equally, surreal anecdotes are mingled with the mundane.  The author’s style is articulate and lucent, yet poetic; his non-linear narration is amplified by repetition and gains structure through the use of leitmotifs and recurring metaphors. The literary critic Ilma Rakusa has stated “Tolnai does not intone lament, but rather lets his characters speak of  the everyday-uncannys. With exquisite use of suggestion Ottó Tolnai creates a world whose archaic elements border on violence, but without renouncing the last re-mainders of poetry.”  During his time on a DAAD scholarship (2004/2005) his second collection of short stories (‘Eine Postkarte an Don Dukay. Neun Geschichten aus der Provinz’, 2005; t: A Postcard to Don Dukay. Nine stories from the Province) was published in German. It depicts the summer in a small village: A whole world can be discovered in the microcosm of the inhabitants. Ottó Tolnai lives in Palics.

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