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Büchner-Preis 2023
Award for a Darkly Luminous Oeuvre

Lutz Seiler at the award ceremony of the Berlin Literature Prize of the Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung (2023)
© picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Lutz Seiler found his way to literature late in life. He first wrote poetry, celebrated his greatest successes with novels, and now received his literary accolade with the Georg Büchner Prize.

By Holger Moos

Lutz Seiler’s path to becoming a poet and writer was anything but preordained, as he did not come from an educated middle-class household. His father was originally a weaver and later a computer language teacher, his mother worked on her parents’ farm. Moreover, the author, who was born in Gera in 1963, was a late bloomer when it came to reading and writing literature. In an interview with the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung in 2000, he described his career as follows: “I have a completely different story: I learned to be a bricklayer and worked as a carpenter for several years, and I didn’t read either. My parental home was not artistically inclined at all. I started reading literature when I was 23 or 24 and started writing a little later; and since then it’s just taken hold.”

Seiler began writing poetry. His first book of poems berührt/geführt (1995) went almost unnoticed by critics and the public, but his second book of poetry pech & blende (2000) attracted attention. The theme of many of his early poems is the memory of childhood and youth in the uranium mining villages of Thuringia. For Seiler, the dialectic of home and foreignness inherent in his poems has less to do with the Wende experience of 1989 than with the world of the uranium mines, which had already disappeared in GDR times. Because of the nearby uranium mining, his home village of Culmitzsch was razed in 1968. “Absence, fatigue, and heaviness characterise this time,” Seiler wrote in his 2001 essay Heimaten.

Distinctive tone

Further volumes of poetry, essays, and short stories followed. Seiler received numerous prizes for his works, such as the Kranichsteiner Literature Prize (1999) and the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize (2007).

The Kritische Lexikon zur deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur (Critical Encyclopaedia of Contemporary German Literature) attests to his having “a distinctive personal tone from the very beginning.” Seiler’s poetry stands out from the cool metropolitan poetics of Durs Grünbein; instead, his poems are “characterised by a restraint that, in its reflectiveness, always finds its way back to simple lyrical forms such as children’s songs and never ceases to amaze the reader.”

Successful novels about the Wende era

Seiler’s novels brought him the big successes. His debut novel Kruso was awarded the German Book Prize in 2014. The jury’s statement said that his book was convincing “because of its completely independent poetic language, its sensual intensity, and worldliness.” The feuilleton and literary critics also celebrated the story, set between June and November 1989, about a group of dropouts who run a restaurant on the Baltic island of Hiddensee and seek their salvation not in escaping to the West, but in escaping into inwardness. With over 250,000 copies sold, Kruso became a bestseller and has since been translated into 25 languages.

Seiler’s second novel Stern 111, which follows on from his first novel in terms of content and again has autobiographical features, also received much acclaim, and won the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in the fiction category in 2020. The story about a married couple and their son, whose lives go off the rails after the fall of the Wall in 1989, was praised by the jury as “literary historiography between sleepwalking and squatting.”

Melancholy, urgent, sincere

The awarding of the Georg Büchner Prize to Lutz Seiler on 4 November 2023 at the Staatstheater Darmstadt is now tantamount to a knightly accolade. The prize is considered the most prestigious literary prize in the German-speaking world and, at 50,000 euros, is one of the most highly endowed awards. With this award, the jury honours an author who in all his works remains “a lyricist as clear as he is enigmatic, as darkly luminous.” The jury’s statement said: “As a novelist and as a poet, Lutz Seiler has found his own unmistakable voice, melancholy, urgent, sincere, full of wonderful echoes from a long literary tradition.”

Seiler lives with his wife, a Swedish Germanist and translator, in Wilhelmshorst near Berlin and in Stockholm. He has been in charge of the literary programme at the Peter Huchel House in Wilhelmshorst since 1997. Peter Huchel is also one of the award-winning writer’s most important literary role models.

Logo Rosinenpicker © Goethe-Institut / Illustration: Tobias Schrank In our Onleihe you will find the following works by Lutz Seiler:

Die Zeitwaage. Erzählungen (2009)

in field latin (englische Übersetzung von: im felderlatein. Gedichte, 2010)

Kruso. Roman (2014), also in Lithuanian translation

Stern 111. Roman (2020), also in Danish and Dutch translation

Stern 111. Hörbuch (2020)

schrift für blinde riesen. Gedichte (2021)