Peter Härtling, who was born in 1933 in Chemnitz, grew up in Saxony, Moravia, Austria and Württemberg in Germany. In an attempt to escape capture by the Nazis, the family fled towards the West at the end of World War II with many intermediate stops along the way. However, his father – a lawyer – ended up a prisoner of war in Russia, and he died there in June 1945. In 1946, a few weeks after receiving the news of this, his mother committed suicide. The 13-year-old was brought up by his grandmother and two aunts. His professional career began with him doing journalistic work at different newspapers, including positions as literary editor and, later, co-publisher of the newspaper »DER MONAT« (tr: The Month). From 1967, he was Editor-in-Chief and finally, from 1968 to 1973/1974 management spokesman at publishing house S. Fischer Verlag. He has been repeatedly active campaigning for the political ideas he supports, always outside of party lines, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities since the 1980s. In 1953, Peter Härtling debuted with the poetry volume »poems und songs«. The list of his poems, essays and children’s novels which have been published to date is long, just like the number of literary prizes he has received. His interest in people and their stories together with his own childhood experiences and in particular the traumatic loss of his parents, form the foundations of his literary works. Loneliness, being ostracized and alienation, but also civil courage and empathy for our fellow human beings are main motifs that wend their way through his works. »I believe that one can present children with all themes in life – like death, love, grief, hate, etc. – one only has to write in a way that does not go over their heads or hurt them in any way«, is how Peter Härtling – looking back in 1998 in an interview with German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk – justified his decision to deal with the subject of disability in his 1973 book »Das war der Hirbel« (Eng. »Herbie’s World«, 2009), something that was very much taboo in children’s literature back then. In his latest children’s book, »Paul, das Hauskind« (2010) (tr: »Paul the Housechild«) the author tells the story through the eyes of his main character Paul, who is neglected by his parents. The people who live in the same apartment block in which Paul is growing up take care of the bigger and smaller everyday problems of the lonely and angry 13-year-old, although all of those involved have to come to realise the limits to what they can do. In an intelligent way, the author pleads for more awareness of the daily suffering of children behind the façade of our affluent society.
Peter Härtling has received many prizes, among others the Special Prize of the German Youth Literature Award in 2001 for his collected works of children’s literature and the Main Prize of the German Academy for Children’s and Youth Literature in 2011. He lives as an author in Walldorf near Frankfurt a. M.
The author died on July 10, 2017.
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