22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Peter Stamm

Portrait Peter Stamm
© Hartwig Klappert

Peter Stamm was born in 1963 in Weinfelden, in the Swiss canton of Thurgau.  He did a business apprenticeship and studied English, Information Technology, Psychology and Psychopathology for a while.  Later he worked as a journalist, writing, among other things, for the »Neue Zürcher Zeitung« and the »Weltwoche«, as well as for the satirical magazine »Nebelspalter«. He also wrote radio plays, several of which received awards.  In 1998 his widely noted debut, the novel »Agnes« appeared, which has since been translated into fifteen languages.  As a result of the string of books that followed in swift succession, he has established his name in German literature.

Stamm follows in the tradition of Chekhov and Camus as well as American storytellers such as Carver, Ford and Hemingway.  Like them, he follows the poetic maxim to hold off from explaining too much, and instead lets images and dialogue speak for themselves.  »A lot takes place in my books through perception or the description of perceptions. Rather than simply narrating, I tell things as I perceive them. I think that this accounts for the vitality of the text, and the sensations the reader experiences.  I don’t write: »He answers the telephone«, but rather: »The ringing stops«. And then the reader must do the homework: either the telephone was answered or it stopped ringing.«  In 1999 »Blitzeis« (Engl: Quickly Freezing Ice), a volume of short stories, came out, and two years later his second novel, »Ungefähre Landschaft« (Engl: Unformed Landscape, 2004), whose protagonist is like Stamm’s other main characters: introverted, discreetly longing and mildly disillusioned.  Without being unduly disappointed, she accepts the failure of her second marriage and without high hopes tracks down an old male acquaintance.  Unlike Stamm’s first book, the tale ends on a positive note.  The last sentences evoke a quiet contentment with everyday life, by the side of yet another man.

Stamm dresses the absence of important events in impressively condensed language characterised by the frequent use of main clauses with a few generic verbs and adjectives included.  This sparseness offers a frank view of the stories’ special features: a play with references, temporal modulations and the reader’s own expectations.  In the story »Die ganze Nacht« (Engl: The Entire Night) from the volume »In fremden Gärten« (2003; Engl: In Strange Gardens), the sentences which the reader is curious to hear are the ones which the author in the end withholds.  By contrast the title story leads the reader astray before any of his expectation can be fulfilled or disappointed. The unexpected happy ending of his lates novel »An einem Tag wie diesem« (2006; t: On a day like this one) irritated some critics. It tells of Andres who after twenty years of monotony and loneliness starts on a journey into the past. An illness makes him reveal his feelings to his great love, Fabienne who once married his best friend.

Peter Stamm, who works also as a translator, has been awarded various literature prizes as well as grants. His plays, published under the title »Der Kuss des Kohaku« (2004; Engl: The Kiss of the Kohaku), were performed in theatres in Zurich and Hamburg, as well as in Saarbrücken, Osnabrück and Lucerne.  In 2004, his children’s book »Warum wir vor der Stadt wohnen« (Engl: Why We Live in the Suburbs of the City) was published. Apart from stays in New York, London, Paris and Berlin, Stamm went on reading tours to Mexiko and Russia, among other countries. He lives in Winterthur, Switzerland.

© international literature festival berlin