I come from the land of book-burning. -- Günter Grass
Born: October 16, 1927
Author Günter Grass
was born in Danzig, Germany - today Gdansk, Poland
. By the age of 12 Gunter knew he wanted to be an artist. His family was poor, but his mother had a love for the arts and encouraged her son - though she was not without a sense of humor
When I read I might have been under a bell jar; I was so involved in the world of the book that my mother, who liked a practical joke, once demonstrated her son's complete and utter absorption to a neighbour by replacing a roll I had been taking an occasional bite from with a bar of soap - Palmolive, I believe - whereupon the two women - my mother not without a certain pride - watched me reach blindly for the soap, sink my teeth into it, and chew it for a good minute before it tore me away from my adventure on the page.
Grass entered his first writing contest at 13 - one sponsored by the Hitler Youth
magazine Hilf mit!
(Lend a Hand). He soon realized it wasn't as easy at it at first seemed. So he read. And read some more. This was interrupted at age 16 when he was drafted into the German army
-- where he eventually ended up in an American POW
Still, after the war, he resumed his goal of becoming an artist. And in 1959 he published his first novel - The Tin Drum. It received critical praise and sold millions of copies around the world.
Grass crafts his characters with humor, irony, joy, but always there is the reverse as well. There is good, and there is evil. Sometimes it's not always clear where one ends and the other begins. And, like Americans John Barth or Richard Brautigan, he has a love of language and takes delight in playing with it.
'What made you become a writer?' The ability to daydream at length, the job of punning and playing with language in general, the addiction to lying for its own sake rather than for mine because sticking to the truth would have been a bore ...
Above all, Grass is a superb storyteller. It's a role he exults in. He does not shy away from controversy
- he accepts it as part of the duties of being a writer. To Grass, storytelling may be the oldest profession
People have always told tales. Long before humanity learned to write and gradually became literate, everybody told tales to everybody else and everybody listened to everybody else's tales. Before long it became clear that some of the still illiterate storytellers told more and better tales than others, that is, they could make more people believe their lies. And there were those among them who found artful ways of stemming the peaceful flow of their tales and diverting it into a tributary, that, far from drying up, turned suddenly and amazingly into a broad bed, though now full of flotsam and jetsam, the stuff of sub-plots. And because these primordial storytellers - who were not dependent upon day or lamp light and could carry on perfectly well in the dark, who were in fact adept at exploiting dusk or darkness to add to the suspense - because they stopped at nothing, neither dry stretches nor thundering waterfalls, except perhaps to interrupt the course of action with a 'To Be Continued ...'
Grass has been more than a writer. He has been an activist and crusader
for causes that catch his interest. A committed socialist, he has at times involved himself in German politics. He received the Nobel Prize
for Literature in 1999 and alluded to one of his causes in his Nobel Lecture
The rat has been awarded a Nobel Prize. At last, one might say. She's been on the list for years, even the short list. Representative of millions of experimental animals - from guinea pig to rhesus monkey - the white-haired, red-eyed laboratory rat is finally getting her due. For she more than anyone - or so claims the narrator of my novel - has made possible all the Nobelified research and discoveries in the field of medicine and, as far as Nobel Laureates Watson and Crick are concerned, on the virtually boundless turf of gene manipulation.
Grass is also a noted painter, playwright and poet. He has been married twice. His books have been translated into many languages.
Books by Günter Grass
Tin Drum (1959)
Cat and Mouse (1960)
Dog Years (1963)
Speak Out! (1965) political speeches and letters
Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising - a German Tragedy (1967)
Local Anaesthetic (1969)
From the Diary of a Snail (1972)
In the Egg and other stories (1977)
The Flounder (1977)
Meeting at Telgte (1979)
Headbirths, or, the Germans Are Dying Out (1980)
Show Your Tongue (1989)
Two States-One Nation? (1991)
Call of the Toad (1992)
A Broad Field (1995)
Selected Poems 1956-93 (1999)
My Century (1999)