Literary genres Authors between drama and prose

Dual talent: author Dirk Laucke;
Dual talent: author Dirk Laucke; | Photo (detail): © Thorsten Wulff

Quite a few authors are gifted in several genres, and those who juggle with poetry, prose and drama are much lauded by critics.

In his damning review of the drama Fiorenza in 1905, theatre critic Alfred Kerr called the author a “fine if somewhat wispy little soul”. Said author was none other than Thomas Mann, the German novelist par excellence. And yet in Buddenbrooks, published in 1901, Thomas Mann had created some altogether vivid scenes and figures suitable both for stage and cinema. Fiorenza was the only stage play that he ever completed. He never really got over the humiliation, especially as, traditionally speaking, a real writer should be creative in all three genres – poetry, prose, drama. Until well into the 20th century such dual or triple talents were by no means the exception. The theatre revolutionary Bertolt Brecht was also a brilliant poet; and Rainer Maria Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Hermann Hesse and Arthur Schnitzler were successful in at least two genres.

Dual talents also exist today

This was also the case with post-war literature from 1945 onwards. All the important authors in the Group 47 that gathered around the writer Hans Werner Richter from 1947 onwards wrote not only poetry and prose, but also plays. For many of them, the radio play, which had its heyday then, became an important publication form and source of income. Those authors included Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Thomas Bernhard. Today too, there are some remarkable dual talents, like Nino Haratischwili, born in Tiflis, Georgia, in 1983. While still young she founded a German-Georgian theatre group for which she regularly wrote and directed plays between 1998 and 2003. Later she studied film directing in Tiflis and theatre directing in Hamburg and directed at many German theatres. She has received many prizes for her dramas. So it was quite a surprise when Nino Haratischwili made it from scratch, so to speak, onto the longlist for the 2010 German Book Prize and onto the shortlist for the Aspekte Literature Prize presented by the ZDF television station with her first novel Juja. In 2011 she received the debut prize of the Buddenbrooks House Lübeck. In 2014 she published her third novel, Das achte Leben (Für Brilka) (The eighth life, For Brilka) and that voluminous and highly-praised family saga has definitely established Nino Haratischwili as one of the most important narrative voices in the German language.

Dirk Laucke, born in Schkeuditz, Saxony, in 1982, exhibited a certain proximity to scenic writing in his first novel, Mit sozialistischem Grusz (With socialist greetings). This story of an East German father who wants to get some advice on bringing up his son from Margot Honecker, of all people, wife of the former head of the GDR Erich Honecker, is based on an amusing basic idea, all the modifications of which the author goes through with a satirical touch. No epic breadth here! “German theatre’s underdog specialist”, as magazine Der Spiegel once called him, writes not only very successful plays about young people, but also topical contemporary pieces. In his prose works he also takes a provocative, cabaret-style approach.

One of the most successful German playwrights currently is Dea Loher, born 1964. After her much praised volume of stories Hundskopf (Dog’s head, 2005), she published her first novel, Bugatti taucht auf (Bugatti emerges), in 2012 and it was nominated for the 2012 German Book Prize. Loher, a pupil of the dramatist Heiner Müller and the author-actor Yaak Karsunke, has received numerous prizes for her works, including the 2009 Berlin Literature Prize, worth 30,000 Euros. Dea Loher’s novel reconstructs the death of a young man in Locarno, Switzerland, and links the circle of perpetrators and victims against the backdrop of real events. What the critics praised above all are the highly forceful images, including, not least, the Bugatti at the bottom of Lago Maggiore.

Tension between the genres

Alongside Dea Loher and Nino Haratischwili, John von Düffel is one of the important younger German novelists who also write plays. This author was born in 1966 and his work to date can be located in the field of tension between prose and drama. Having written a dissertation on epistemology, he worked as a film journalist and theatre critic, as a dramaturg in Oldenburg, Basel and Bonn, and then from 2000 to 2009 at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, where he adapted Buddenbrooks for stage. This has been successfully produced at numerous German theatres. He also reworked Thomas Mann’s tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers for stage. From his own novels, Vom Wasser (Of water), Ego and Houweland, it is evident that John von Düffel is one of those authors for whom content dictates form. While he works very effectively in theatrical terms in his plays, his novels are mainly essayistic and reflective in style, thriving less on the scene and more on the language. In the case of John von Düffel, it is no longer possible to specify whether he is a dramatist who also writes novels, or a novelist with a pre-history in theatre.