Photo: Borut Krajnc

Photo: Borut Krajnc

Boris A. Novak

Boris A. Novak (born in Belgrade in 1953) is a Slovene poet, playwright, translator, and essayist. He is a Professor at the Department for Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana.

From seventies on Novak had been active in the movement for the democratization of the society and freedom of expression. As President of the Slovene PEN (1991 – 1996) and Chair of the Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN (1994 – 2000) Novak organized humanitarian help for refugees from the former Yugoslavia and writers from Sarajevo which was one of the biggest humanitarian efforts in the history of the world writers’ organization. From 2002 he is a Vice-president of International PEN. Novak is active in the struggle for the protection of human rights of different minorities in Slovenia (the »erased«, Roma population etc.). Together with the Flemish writer Monika van Paemel he has established The Society of the Friends of Lipica which strives to protect the endangered horse species of Lipizzans. He is a member of the French poetic Académie Mallarmé.

So far he has published the following volumes of poems: Still-Life-in-Verses (Stihožitje), 1977; Daughter of Memory (Hči spomina), 1981; 1001 Verses (1001 stih), 1983; Coronation (Kronanje), 1984; Cataclysm (Stihija), 1991; The Master of Insomnia (Mojster nespečnosti), 1995; Alba, 1999; Echo (Odmev), 2000; Glowing (Žarenje), 2003, Rituals of Farewell (Obredi slovesa), 2005; the selected poems Linen Palms (Dlaneno platno), 2006, and LPM: Little Personal Mythology (MOM: Mala Osebna Mitologija), 2007; Honeycomb (Satje), prose poems, written in 1975-76, published in 2010; Definitions (Definicije), written in 1973-75, published in 2013; The Mapping of the Forsaken Home (Zemljevidi domotožja), 2014, and The Time of Fathers (Čas očetov), 2015, the first two among three books of the epos The Doors of No Return (Vrata nepovrata), which contains 40.000 verses about the atrocities of the 20th century.

He has also published handbooks of poetic forms Forms of the World (Oblike sveta), 1991, and Forms of the Heart (Oblike srca), 1997. Novak writes a lot for children; for them he has published eight volumes of poems and two books of fairy tales. Besides 15 puppet and radio plays for children he has written several plays for adults, among them drama chronicle Soldiers of History (Vojaki zgodovine), 1988,  poetic play House of Cards (Hiša iz kart), 1988, tragedy Cassandra (2001) about the wars in the former Yugoslavia, tragicomedy Lipizzans go to Strasbourg (2006), the drama The Book is a Shoe (Knjiga je čevelj), 2008, etc.

Novak’s poems were translated into many languages; the book editions of his poems were published in the U. S. A., France, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The most recent English selection of his poems The Master of Insomnia was published by Dalkey Archive Press (USA, UK, Ireland) in 2012.

Novak translates French, ancient Provencal, as well as American, English, German, Italian and Spanish poetry, and literature written in Dutch and in South Slav languages. So far he has published translations of Stéphane Mallarmé (1989), Paul Valéry (1992), Josip Osti (1992), Paul Verlaine (1996, 2000), Edmond Jabès (1996), Seamus Heaney (1997), and many poets in the anthologies of Bosnian, Serbian, American, English, and Flemish poetry. In 2001 he has published a huge anthology Modern French Poetry (more than 800 pages), and in 2003 the first anthology of Provencal troubadours in Slovene Distant Love. He translated poems of the Flemish avant-guard poet Paul van Ostaijen (2009), and novels The Difference (2003) and  Marguerite (2009) by the Flemish writer Monika van Paemel.

In 1991 he was a visiting professor (American Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the U.S.A. His basic fields of research are comparative poetics (Form, Love of the Language: The Reception of Romanic Poetic Forms in the Slovene Poetry,1995; Po-ethics of the Form, 1997; Sonnet, 2004; Sound and Meaning, 2005), literary translation (Salto Immortale: Studies about Poetry Translations, 2011), medieval and renaissance poetry, and symbolism (The Symbolist Poetry, 1997, The Views on the French Symbolism, 2007).

Novak received many national and international awards for his work. In Slovenia he is a recipient of the Award of the Presheren’s Fund (1984) and Jenko’s Award for poetry (1995), Sovre’s award for his translation of Mallarmé’s poetry (1990), and the Golden Sign of the Scientific and Research Centre of the Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciences for his theoretical work (1998). International Board of Books for Young Readers (IBBY) has included Novak’s fairy tale The Little and the Big Moon on the Honour list of the best stories in 1998. The Association of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina has given him the international award Bosanski stećak for his literary opus in 2000. The French Repiblic has named him Le chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques (2008) and Le Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2011).