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About Günter Wilhelm Grass, Nobel Prize in Literature 1999
Günter Wilhelm Grass (born 16 October 1927) is a Nobel Prize-winning German author, poet, playwright, sculptor and artist.
He was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). In 1945, he came as a refugee to West Germany, but in his fiction he frequently returns to the Danzig of his childhood.
He is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum, a key text in European magic realism and the first part of his Danzig Trilogy. His works frequently have a left wing political dimension and Grass has been an active supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. In 2006, Grass admitted that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.
Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on 16 October 1927, to Willy Grass (1899–1979), a Protestant ethnic German, and Helene Grass (née Knoff, 1898–1954), a Roman Catholic of Kashubian-Polish origin. Grass was raised a Catholic. His parents had a grocery store with an attached apartment in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz). He has one sister, who was born in 1930.
Grass attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum. He volunteered for submarine service with the Kriegsmarine "to get out of the confinement he felt as a teenager in his parents' house" which he considered - in a negative way - civic Catholic lower middle class. In 1943 he became a Luftwaffenhelfer, then he was drafted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst, and in November 1944, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, volunteered into the Waffen-SS. The seventeen-year-old Grass saw combat with the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg from February 1945 until he was wounded on 20 April 1945 and sent to an American POW camp.
In 1946 and 1947 he worked in a mine and received a stonemason's education. For many years he studied sculpture and graphics, first at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, then at the Universität der Künste Berlin. He also worked as an author and travelled frequently. He married in 1954 and since 1960 has lived in Berlin as well as part-time in Schleswig-Holstein. Divorced in 1978, he remarried in 1979. From 1983 to 1986 he held the presidency of the Berlin Akademie der Künste (Berlin Academy of Arts).
English-speaking readers probably know Grass best as the author of The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel), published in 1959 (and subsequently filmed by director Volker Schlöndorff in 1979). It was followed in 1961 by the novella Cat and Mouse (Katz und Maus) and in 1963 by the novel Dog Years (Hundejahre), which together with The Tin Drum form what is known as The Danzig Trilogy. All three works deal with the rise of Nazism and with the war experience in the unique cultural setting of Danzig and the delta of the Vistula River. Dog Years, in many respects a sequel to The Tin Drum, portrays the area's mixed ethnicities and complex historical background in lyrical prose that is highly evocative.
Grass has received dozens of international awards and in 1999 achieved the highest literary honor: the Nobel Prize for Literature. His literature is commonly categorized as part of the artistic movement of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, roughly translated as "coming to terms with the past."
In 2002 Grass returned to the forefront of world literature with Crabwalk (Im Krebsgang). This novella, one of whose main characters first appeared in Cat and Mouse, was Grass' most successful work in decades.
Representatives of the City of Bremen joined together to establish the Günter Grass Foundation, with the aim of establishing a centralized collection of his numerous works, especially his many personal readings, videos and films. The Günter Grass House in Lübeck houses exhibitions of his drawings and sculptures, an archive and a library.
As a trained graphic artist, he has also created the distinctive cover art for his novels.
He was elected in 1993 an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
See also: "Günter Grass - Photo Gallery". Nobelprize.org.