Hannah Dübgen A Contemporary Writer With a Global Perspective

Hannah Dübgen
Hannah Dübgen | Photo (detail): © Susanne Schleyer/autorenarchiv.de

She is interested in social matters, in life in our networked world – and in topical political issues. Precise observation and a rhythmically meticulous language are characteristics of Hannah Dübgen’s prose. This multifaceted writer has also written successful librettos and theatre plays.

“I regard literature as a process of precise observation, as a way of approaching reality through language,” says Hannah Dübgen. The language she has chosen for her observations is clear and precise, with recurrent flashes of British humour. The author was born in Dusseldorf in 1977 and spent five years in Oxford studying literature and philosophy, then one year in Paris where she became intensely involved in the theatre scene. With this outsider’s viewpoint – from which she also scrutinises the German language – she chooses her words deliberately and perceptively.

Her phrasing is resonant, musical, structured, rhythmical; and the basis for this is her musicology studies in Berlin. After her apprenticeship years, Hannah Dübgen was drawn to the capital city mainly because, as a writer with language as her tool, she specifically wants to take part in a lively exchange. And in her eyes, Berlin was the only possible place for that, indeed she considers it to be a very particular place in Germany: international and open-minded. She is attracted by all that is global. Although she speaks quite fast, she always formulates clearly. Her statements all hit the mark, and it is immediately noticeable that the woman speaking certainly likes to think, and has given a lot of thought to things.

Lettra.tv Interview with Hannah Dübgen

Social Aspects

Hannah Dübgen is an altogether contemporary author interested in social matters and current ways of life in our networked world. She is also interested in controversial political issues: she placed the Palestine/Israel conflict zone to the fore in her first novel Strom, published in 2013. “My attitude when writing is that I want to look at this or that particular country, this or that interpersonal or social conflict. I want to observe and understand it, smell and taste it.” In doing this she raises questions of considerable urgency, in her view: “Do the people on the other side have the same fear? Can it be that (the Palestinians) are just not able to get away from there as easily as the Israelis?” Hannah Dübgen, whose Jewish first name is pure chance, experienced some aspects of life in that divided region during a sojourn in Israel. In fact she wrote the first, Israel-chapter of Strom in the Artists Residence Herzliya near Tel Aviv.

Hannah Dübgen’s first novel intertwines the fates of four protagonists, who come from different cultures, live in different time zones, seem remote from one another and yet have things in common. The novel’s maxim: “Near or far no longer exist, only near or alien.” What is distant is not necessarily alien. Common knowledge can be shared on the Internet, but experiences have to be made personally. Each figure in the novel has his or her part to play, like in a string quartet. Practised as she is in music, this musical form readily suggested itself to her: laying out four narrative strands, pursuing and aligning them, and finally bringing them together to form a melodious work is a task this author skilfully accomplishes.

In demand as a librettist

The world of music is a realm in which Hannah Dübgen also feels quite at home. She has already written librettos for three full-length operas and is in demand as a librettist. She has inspired renowned artists like the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa and the German choreographer Sasha Waltz, who created a dance opera based on her reworking of a Japanese Noh play. Composers like Moritz Eggert and Jörn Arnecke have transposed her texts into music. For Arnecke’s opera Kyros, Hannah Dübgen imagined the social theme of climate change in the 23rd century. The spectral language she created especially for this received great praise from the critics.

Since she was a student Hannah Dübgen has worked as a free-lance dramaturge for various theatres – and meantime also as a dramatist. Her first theatre play, Gegenlicht, garnered attention immediately. In 2008 she was nominated for the Klagenfurt Theatre’s Dramatist Prize. Just five years later, in 2013, Austria again played an important role in the author’s career – during the competition for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize she presented her text Schattenlider. Although the experts on the jury were not convinced, this eloquent woman of the theatre cast a spell over the audience with her reading of a story about a child born with empty eye sockets.

Twice in 2013 Hannah Dübgen was again introduced to a larger public: she was nominated for the Klaus Michael Kühne Prize for debut novelists; and in autumn she was awarded the Literature Prize of her hometown of Dusseldorf for her novel Strom: “Hannah Dübgen writes movingly and with considerable force about the ‘stream’ (Strom) that is our era.