Günter Grass Biography

(German Novelist & Nobel Prize Laureate, Best Known for His 1959 Novel, 'The Tin Drum')

Birthday: October 16, 1927 (Libra)

Born In: Free City of Danzig, Poland

Gunter Wilhelm Grass was a prominent German author who rose to international fame with his very first novel, ‘The Tin Drum’, which became a best-seller and set the pace for his illustrious literary career. A highly skilled writer, he wrote plays, poems, and novels, and was also an illustrator and graphic artist. One of the major figures of contemporary German literature, he easily achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success with his large body of humorous and satirical works. Born into a middle class family in the Free City of Danzig, he grew up to be a rebellious teenager who wanted to escape the boring routines of his family life. He experienced more than his share of adventure when he joined the German Army as a tank gunner during the World War II and was wounded and captured by American forces. After his release he studied sculpture and graphics and became active in the German literary scenario. He was working with a small publishing house when he published his first novel which became a best-seller and also received much critical acclaim. Established as a major author by his very first novel, he published several other brilliant literary works over the next few decades. He was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999 for his invaluable contribution to literature.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In October

Also Known As: Günter Wilhelm Grass, Günter Wilhelm Graß

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Margareta Schwartz, Ute Grunert

father: Wilhelm Grass

mother: Helene Knoff

Born Country: Germany

Nobel Laureates In Literature Poets

Died on: April 13, 2015

place of death: Lübeck, Germany

Notable Alumni: Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

Grouping of People: Smoker

Cause of Death: Lung Infection

More Facts

education: Kunstakademie Düsseldorf

awards: Nobel Prize in Literature - 1999
Georg Büchner Prize - 1965
Prince of Asturias Award for Literature - 1999

Europeans of the Year - 2012
Sonning Prize - 1996
Hermann Kesten Prize - 1995

Childhood & Early Life
Gunter Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on 16 October 1927. His family was a lower middle class one and his parents Wilhelm Grass and Helene were grocers. He had one younger sister.
He was raised a Catholic and attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum.
As a youngster he was blessed with a good imagination and creativity. He spent a lot of his time drawing, reading and writing. In fact, he had started writing a novel when he was just 12 though he never completed it.
He was conscripted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labor Service) in 1943 when he was 16. The very next year he was drafted into the Waffen-SS.
He was wounded in April 1945 following which he was captured by American forces and sent to a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp. He was later released.
Upon his release, he worked for a while in a chalk mine and went on to study sculpture and graphics, at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
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Over the next few years he worked as an author, sculptor and graphic designer before moving to West Berlin in 1953. There he studied at the Berlin University of the Arts.
He was an active participant in the Group 47, an informal but influential association of German writers and critics, organized by Hans Werner Richter. The other members included Heinrich Böll, Uwe Johnson, and Ilse Aichinger.
He was working in a publishing house when he published his debut novel, ‘The Tin Drum’, in 1959. The novel, in spite of being his first one became a hit with the readers and critics alike and established him as a rising star in the German literary world.
In 1961, he wrote a novella, ‘Cat and Mouse’, and followed it with ‘Dog Years’ in 1963. ‘The Tin Drum’, along with these books collectively comprised the Danzig Trilogy which focuses on how Nazism and World War II changed the history of Danzig.
He published the novel ‘The Flounder’ in 1977 which is based on the folktale of ‘The Fisherman and His Wife’. This work was considered to be anti-feminist and deals with the struggle between the sexes. Heavily panned by feminists, the book was harshly critiqued.
In 1999, he released ‘My Century’, which was an overview of the 20th-century's many brutal historic events. Three years later, he wrote a novella, ‘Crabwalk’ which deals with the events of a refugee ship sunk by a submarine. It became a big success.
In addition to being an author he was also involved in social and political activism and was for several decades a supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and its policies.
Major Work
His debut novel, ‘The Tin Drum’ remains his most famous work. One of the most widely read modern European novels, the book is considered a key text in magic realism. The novel’s protagonist, Oskar, who wills himself to stop growing at the age of three, charmed generations of readers making the novel an enduring success.
Awards & Achievements
in 1993, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature , and a couple of year later, in 1995, he was awarded the Hermann Kesten Prize.
The Swedish Academy awarded him the highest literary honour, the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1999. He was noted as a writer "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history".
He received the '2012 European of the Year' award from the European Movement Denmark (Europabevægelsen) in recognition of his political debates in European affairs.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Anna Margareta Schwarz, a Swiss dancer, in 1954. This union produced four children. Anna and Gunter Grass separated in 1972 after almost two decades of marriage and divorced in 1978.
He married Ute Grunert, an organist, in 1979 and remained married to her for the rest of his life.
He also had two children from other relationships, two stepsons from his second marriage, and 18 grandchildren.
Gunter Grass lived a long life and died of a lung infection on 13 April 2015 in Lübeck at the age of 87.
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