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21/12/2005

Christa Wolf

A short biography

Christa Wolf was born on March 18, 1929 in Landsberg/Warthe, today Gorzó Wielkopolski in Poland. In 1945 she moved to Mecklenburg, and in 1949 she graduated from high school and joined the SED, the former East German Communist Party. She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig. Later she became a member of the German Writers' Association, working as editor of the magazine "Neue deutsche Literatur" and chief editor of Neues Leben publishing house. In 1961 she published her first prose work, "Moscow Novella". The book was well received in the GDR, but not published in the Federal Republic. Since that time she has worked as a freelance author. Her first big success was the novel "Divided Heaven", which deals with the divided Germany. The book won her the prestigious East German Heinrich Mann Prize, and was made into a movie by East German filmmaker Konrad Wolf in 1964.

From 1963 to 1967, Christa Wolf was a candidate of the Central Committee of the SED, but resigned after giving a critical speech. In 1974 she became a member of the East German Academy of Arts, and from 1981 on was also a member of the Academy of Arts in West Berlin. In 1976 she spoke out against the denaturalisation of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann. She was allowed to travel freely, and gave visiting lectures in the Federal Republic, Italy, Scotland, Switzerland and the USA starting 1978.

In 1983, her book "Cassandra" appeared, dealing with the conflict between the sexes. The book made her an all-German author and was her biggest international success. In 1987 she was also presented the 1st Class National Prize of the GDR. Two years later, in June 1989, she left the Communist Party – five months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1990 she published "What Remains", a strongly autobiographical short story documenting her supervision by the Ministry for State Security. The book initiated a discussion on the complicity of intellectuals in the misanthropical conditions of the GDR. Christa Wolf was attacked in the West as a "hypocrite" and "state poet", whereupon she retired from public life.

1993 brought a further benchmark. Christa Wolf acknowledged she had been an unofficial informant for the Ministry for State Security. She herself published the files documenting her engagement at this time. In all, Christa Wolf has written over thirty books, radio plays and film scenarios. In 1996 her novel "Medea" appeared. As with "Cassandra" it adopts the narrative voice of a figure from the world of ancient mythology.

In 2003 her book "Ein Tag im Jahr" (one day in the year) appeared, comprising her minutes from the day on each September 27th over the past four decades.

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The biography originally appeared in German in Die Zeit on September 29, 2005.

Translation: jab.
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