Jerzy Kosiński Biography

(Polish-American Novelist Known for His Novels: 'Being There' and 'The Painted Bird')

Birthday: June 14, 1933 (Gemini)

Born In: Łódź, Poland

Jerzy Kosinski was a Polish novelist who emigrated to the United States after escaping Nazi persecution in Poland. He survived the Holocaust by masquerading as a Catholic in central Poland. His novel, ‘The Painted Bird’ was a supposed autobiographical account of his double life. This novel was steeped in controversy, as critics claimed it was more of a work of fiction than an autobiography. Scholars also believed Kosinski was not capable of writing a novel in English at this time, which resulted in plagiarism accusations. Despite these accusations Kosinski went on to be a highly successful novelist. He received grants from institutions such as ‘Harvard’, ‘Yale’, and the prestigious ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’, that allowed him to complete his most significant work. His novel ‘Being There’ was a political satire novel critiquing the manipulation of the media for political motives. This novel solidified his place in the literary canon as one of history's great authors. He went on to write 6 more novels and make various T.V. appearances until he tragically took his life. To know more about the life and works of Jerzy Kosinski read on the following biography
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Józef Lewinkopf

Died At Age: 57


Spouse/Ex-: Katherina von Fraunhofer, Mary Hayward Weir

Born Country: Poland

Novelists Short Story Writers

Died on: May 3, 1991

place of death: Manhattan, New York, United States

Grouping of People: Jewish Writer

Notable Alumni: University Of Łódź

Cause of Death: Suicide

More Facts

education: Columbia University, University Of Łódź

awards: National Book Award for Fiction - 1969
Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts
US & Canada - 1967

BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay - 1981
Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Comedy - 1980

Childhood & Early Life:
On June 14, 1933, this prolific novelist was born in Lodz, Poland. He was christened JozefLewinkopf on birth. He adapted the identity Jerzy Kosinski to escape Nazi persecution during the World War II.
He and his family survived in central Poland thanks to the help of a Catholic priest. They attended weekly sermons and Kosinski even performed the duties of an altar boy.He was given a baptismal certificate and hid in plain sight as a Catholic.
When the war ended, he moved to Jelenia Gora with his family. In 1955 he graduated with two degrees in History and Sociology from the ‘University of Lodz’.
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After college, Kosinski spent time in the Polish army as a sharpshooter. He also taught at the ‘Polish Academy of Sciences’ as an associate professor.
In 1957 he left Poland for the United States. In order to leave Poland he had to create a fake foundation. He also promised his return to Poland, a requirement at the time, through forged letters from Communist officials.
His life in the United States started from humble beginnings. He got by working jobs he was overqualified for, such as driving delivery trucks.
Kosinski became an American citizen after residing seven years in the country, in 1965. Shortly after, he managed to graduate from the prestigious ‘Columbia University’.
Also in 1965, Kosinski began his career as a novelist with the publication of his first book, ‘The Painted Bird’. This book was a supposed autobiographical account of his experiences, hiding from Nazis and Polish authorities by adapting Catholicism.
In the book, the main character suffers much abuse. This suffering raised concerns from the thencommunist Polish government, and they accused Kosinski of being anti-Polish.
In 1968, the book was banned in Poland. This ban remained until the fall of Communism two decades later. Despite receiving its share of criticism, the book found a champion in noted author and Holocaust survivor, Ellie Wiesel.
Critics of the novel claimed Kosinski's novel was complete fiction. They said he only claimed it to be autobiographical to profit from the Holocaust. Others claim the book was a product of plagiarism.
His second novel, ‘Steps’ hit shelves in 1968. It was considered a pinnacle of surrealist fiction and received the ‘U.S. National Book Award for Fiction’.
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His third novel, ‘Being There’, was published in 1971. This political satire on the role of media in America was Kosinski's most significant work.
Kosinski went on to publish 6 more novels from 1975-1988. They are: ‘The Devil Tree’, ‘Cockpit’, ‘Blind Date’, ‘Passion Play’, ‘Pinball’, and‘The Hermit of 69th St.’
Major Works
Kosinski's 1965 novel, ‘The Painted Bird’, was significant because of its first-hand account of the horrors of the holocaust. It is widely known for its role in the plagiarism
The most significant work of his career was his political satire novel, ‘Being There’. It became a movie in 1979 and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Awards & Achievements
Jerzy Kosinski won a grant from the ‘Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and he won another grant from the ‘Ford Foundation’a year later.
He was conferred upon an ‘Award for Literature’ from the ‘American Academy of Arts and Letters’, in 1970.
His novels have sold over 70 million copies in 30 languages, and have featured in the ‘New York Times Best Seller’ list.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jerzy Kosinski married Mary Hayward Weir in 1962. His marriage to the American steel heiress ended after 4 years. He was left out of her will when she died of cancer, shortly after the divorce.
After separating from his first wife, he exchanged nuptial vows with Katherine Von Fraunhofer, a member of Bavarian nobility.
Kosinski tragically ended his own life on May 3, 1991. His death was the result of a drug and alcohol overdose.
Many scholars believe this prolific writer didn't have enough of a grasp on the English language to write ‘The Painted Bird’.
This famous personality narrowly missed being at Sharon Tate's house during the infamous Manson murders. He and his wife were late due to lost luggage.
This famous novelist’s book, ‘Pinball’, is dedicated to his longtime friend George Harrison.

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