German Authors and Genres

Writer and Cosmopolitan: Silke Scheuermann

Silke Scheuermann; © Schöffling und Co/Harald SchröderSilke Scheuermann; © Schöffling und Co/Harald Schröder

In German literature, Silke Scheuermann has long since established herself as a serious poet and novelist who is equally at home in literature and in the world. A portrait.

Silke Scheuermann’s literary career began with lyric poetry. Her volumes of poems brought her a reputation as a writer capable of combining sensuality, conventional strictness of form and radical visual imagery.

Cover of “Shanghai Performance“; © Schöffling und Co/Fischer VerlagMeanwhile, however, Scheuermann has long since made a name for herself also as a novelist. Her latest book, Shanghai Performance (2011), is a closely interwoven tale of relationships in the art world in Germany and Shanghai. It is borne along by its multi-voice narrative and by the author’s sensitive portrayal of her characters’ viewpoints and urge to explore a new world.

The encyclopaedia of our daydreams

Born in Karlsruhe in 1973, Silke Scheuermann initially studied drama and literature in Frankfurt, Leipzig and Paris and wrote her first critiques. In Frankfurt, where she also lives today, she began writing a dissertation on Franz Kafka and theatre, though she subsequently abandoned this to pursue a career as a writer.

Cover of “Der Tag an dem die Möwen zweistimmig sangen“; © Suhrkamp VerlagIn 2001, at the age of 28, she published her first volume of poetry, Der Tag an dem die Möwen zweistimmig sangen (i.e. The Day When the Seabirds Sang in Two Voices), shortly after beating competitors such as Jan Wagner to win the Leonce and Lena Prize for Lyric Poetry.

The reception to her work was unanimous: literary critics quickly agreed that she was a young poet with a great gift for poems that in many cases are modelled on classical literature. Allusions highlighted in the feature pages of the serious press ranged from Homer’s Prince Aeneas and fairy-story motifs to modern painting.

Myth with high-rise buildings

Complex yet without exercising a complete break with form, Silke Scheuermann’s poems always remain readable and achieve their impact more by dint of the precision of their contents and cleverly chosen visual imagery: “Aber was kommt wenn wir uns alle Geschichten erzählt / haben zehntausend heiße Geschichten / das Lexikon unserer Luftschlösser durchbuchstabiert / ist und wir unseren Stern durchgesessen haben wie das Sofa / auf dem wir uns sehr genau kennenlernten” (i.e. But what happens when we have told each other all of our stories / our ten thousand hot stories / have leafed through the encyclopaedia of our daydreams / and have worn out our star like the sofa / on which we got to know each other very thoroughly).

The success of Der Tag an dem die Möwen zweistimmig sangen enabled Silke Scheuermann to embark on reading tours to places as far away as Korea and helped her obtain a scholarship at the Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, where in 2004 she completed a second volume entitled Der zärtlichste Punkt im All (i.e. The Most Endearing Point in Space).

Mythical places such as Nineveh, Rome and Atlantis meant that this book also involved a poetical journey to alternative worlds. However, the characters in Silke Scheuermann’s new poems are also drawn time and time again to high-rise buildings, a symbol of being lost in the big city.

Prose as second string to Scheuermann’s bow

Cover of “Reiche Mädchen“; © Goldmann VerlagAsked whether she preferred writing poetry or prose, Scheuermann once replied dryly: “I enjoy both, but both are also very difficult.” Although the author has always written prose alongside her poetry, her story-telling side was only presented to a wider public for the first time when her volume of short stories Reiche Mädchen (i.e. Rich Girls) was published in 2005. Silke Scheuermann’s first published work of prose came just at the right time, coinciding with the “literary Fräuleinwunder” represented by authors such as Judith Hermann and Zoë Jenny.

The gentle eroticism which characterizes Scheuermann’s poems finds its reflection in Reiche Mädchen in the form of affairs, marriage or one-night stands. With Silke Scheuermann, however, eroticism is never a means to an end but rather the expression of desire and the longing for a union that all too often fails.

This is also the case in Scheuermann’s highly praised 2007 debut novel Die Stunde zwischen Hund und Wolf (i.e. The Hour Between Dog and Wolf), which German daily Die Welt judged to be “A short but very beautiful, sensuous and intelligent novel”. In Die Stunde zwischen Hund und Wolf, Scheuermann illuminates on a grand scale the mental states of her characters who, embroiled in a love triangle, find themselves caught between the search for security and social disorientation.

Back to the beginnings

At the same time as switching to the form of the great novel, Silke Scheuermann found her way back to the beginnings of her writing in 2007 and published her third volume of poetry Über Nacht ist es Winter (i.e. Winter Has Come Overnight), a brilliant follow-up to her previous volumes. In it, the author shows herself to be a mature poet who elaborates her poems more intensely while simultaneously giving them a more narrative style. In her 2008 radio chamber opera Haus aus Stimmen (i.e. House of Voices), broadcast on Deutschlandfunk radio, she used speaking, singing and percussion to allow listeners to hear and feel the various facets of a couple’s relationship.

Translations of Scheuermann’s books; © Voland/Weyler/Cossee, Uitgeverij/Ediciones Siruela, S.a. (Montage: Südpol Redaktionsbüro/T. Köster)

As a writer-in-residence in Beirut and a scholarship holder in Los Angeles, New York and Rome, and through her travels, which have taken her to places as far-flung as India and China, Silke Scheuermann has become a cosmopolitan: her latest novel Shanghai Performance is inspired by a stay in China. While painters such as Hieronymus Bosch, Matisse and Picasso repeatedly appeared as marginal characters in her poems, the main character of this novel is herself a painter in the world of Asian art.

Highly topical literature

Silke Scheuermann; © Suhrkamp Verlag/Johannes HofmannShanghai Performance tells the story of an artist who receives an enticing offer from China that is linked to an old love story. The novel can be read not least as a commentary on the glamour world of art – and is itself highly topical literature that affords insights into phenomena such as megacities and turbo-capitalism.

In this work, Silke Scheuermann achieves something that characterizes her entire oeuvre: cosmopolitan writing that redefines itself time after time.

Fabian Thomas
works in Munich as a freelance editor in the field of culture and literature.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
March 2012

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