Polish literature: The Twentieth Century

The regaining of Polish independence in 1919 after generations of partition inspired new literary activity. The Skamander group of urban poets, including Julian Tuwim and Kazimierz Wierzyıski, called for an end to nationalist preoccupation and for experimental freedom; other significant figures included the novelists Marja Dąbrowska and Zofia Nalkowska (1885–1954) and the dramatists Karol Hubert Rostworoski (1877–1938) and Jerzy Szaniawski. The period's greatest writing, which gained recognition only after World War II, was the prose and drama of Stanisław Witkiewisz, Witold Gombrowicz, and Bruno Schulz. Notable postwar writers who focused on the anguish of the period include Tadeusz Borowski, Jerzy Putrament, Leon Kruczkowski, and the great expatriate Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981.

The advent of the Communist regime was accompanied by themes of socialist realism. Communist writers include the poet Constantine Galcyzynski (1906–53) and the novelists Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski and Kazimierz Brandys. In 1956 writers joined in the popular uprising against the Moscow-dominated regime, and subsequently there was some relaxation of literary strictures. The thaw (culminating in the rise of the Solidarity movement, the state of emergency, and the collapse of Communism) resulted in renewed contact with the West and a surge of literary experimentation. Many novelists continued to explore themes related to the war experience and its aftermath; others wrote works of psychological and political realism, reflecting current European trends.

Among the foremost postwar novelists are Wilhelm Mach, Leopold Buczkowski, Roman Bratny, Bohdan Czeszko, Julian Stryjkowski, Stanisław Dygat, Stanisław Lem, and Sławomir Mrożek, also well known for his plays and short stories. Postwar poetry in Poland deals principally with philosophical concerns. The chief poets of the era include Stanisław Jerzy Lec, Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz, and Wisława Szymborska (awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996). The works of Miron Białoszewsky, Jerzy Harasymowicz, and Stanisław Grochowiak are in a more lyrical vein. Notable among the writers who began as members of the Polish New Wave movement of the late 1960s is the expatriate poet and novelist Adam Zagajewski. Principal essayists and critics include Tadeusz Breza, Artur Sandauer, Jan Kott, and Jan Błoıski.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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