Agata Tuszyńska

agata long aThe daughter of Bogdan Tuszyński, sports reporter and historian, and Halina Przedborska, journalist, Agata Tuszynska graduated from the State Academy of Dramatic Arts in Warsaw, majoring in theater studies. She received her Ph.D. in the humanities from the Art Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1987-1992, she worked as a lecturer at the Institute of Literary Research. In 1996-1998, she lectured at the Center for Journalism in Warsaw, and from 2001, taught courses in reportage and literary history at Warsaw University. From 2011 she's been cooperating with the Reportage Institute in Warsaw.

She began her literary career in cultural periodicals as an author of articles on theater, combining it with an interest in biography and literary reportage. She made her debut in 1990 with the fin de siècle biography of the Warsaw actress, Maria Wisnowska. The same year, she published the book Russians in Warsaw, in the Literary Institute in Paris, describing the life and culture of the enslaved capital under the Russian occupation. In 1994, she published the book Singer: Landscapes of Memory, the biography of the Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, born in Poland and writing in Yiddish. Tuszyńska collected materials for this book in the United States, Israel, France, and in Polish small towns and villages. The book, reprinted many times in Poland, was also published in the USA and France.

Tuszyńska continued her interest in the vanishing world of the Polish Jews in the volume of Israeli reports Several Portraits with Poland in the Background, also published in the French translation. Scandalizer’s Confessions – memories of Irena Krzywicka, writer and feminist, author of Literary News and a longtime friend of Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński – was the book Tuszyńska wrote in a tiny town near Paris, where Krzywicka lived since the mid 1960s. In her next book, Scandalizer’s Long Life, published in 1999,Tuszyńska returned to Krzywicka’s story after her death.

A Family History of Fear, Tuszynska’s bestseller, released in March 2005, and nominated for the Prix Medicis, is a dramatic and complex story about the fate of her Polish and Jewish ancestors. The author combined here her experience in biography writing with personal non-fiction, the genre rarely used in Poland.

A story of her struggle with her husband's cancer is the subject of Exercises of Loss, very intimate book (2007), also published in French (Grasset, 2009) and Korean (2012). It was very well received by the media and the readers.

The most controversial in her literary output is  The Accused: Vera Gran (Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010) – the story of a singer from the Warsaw ghetto, accused of collaborating with the Germans.  The book, based on conversations with Gran, supplemented by witness accounts, documents, archives and court testimony, has become a multidimensional treatise on the tragic choices, their moral consequences and the price to pay for salvation. The Accused was published in a number of countries: France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Israel, Macedonia and Slovenia. It was released in the US  in February 2013 (Knopf-Randomhouse-Bertelsmann Publishers) and published in Germany by Suhrkamp in early 2013.

Tyrmandowie. Romans amerykański is Tuszyńska’s latest publication. It tells the story about the last period of Tyrmand’s life, the author of Zły (published in English as The Man With White Eyes), alongside his American wife – Mary Ellen Fox. Almost a hundred of never before published Tyrmand’s letters complete memories of the widow, showing a completely unseen face of the Vistula River playboy.

In November 2013 Dialog published a drama Wiera co-written with Jerzy Żurek.

A Family History of Fear  was released in Spring 2016 by Knopf.  It is a dramatic and complex story about the fate of the author's Polish and Jewish ancestors. Here she combines her experience in biographical writing with personal non-fiction. The book was translated into French and English.

In her latest book The Fiancée of Bruno Schulz she presents an extraordinary literary story, connecting dramatic elements of love and war. This time she was inspired by Juna, Józefina Szelińska, the only woman whom Bruno Schulz proposed the marriage. The book, nominated for Prix Medicis and Prix Femina 2015, was also translated into Macedonian, French and Ukrainian.

The newest book Jamnikarium (Wydawnictwo MG, 2016) is about dachshunds and their famous owners and for dachshunds lovers.

An omnipresent character of this and other books by Tuszyńska is MEMORY, its painful ties, mysterious shapes, variable appearances.

Along biography and reportage, Agata Tuszyńska is engaged in writing poetry. She is the author of six collections of poetry, of which the latest, Hope 2, was released in the winter of 2010. Her poems were published in English, French, Hebrew, Spanish and Russian translations.

She contributes to Historical Notebooks, Literary Notebooks, Tygodnik Powszechny, Borderlands and Odra and collaborated with the Paris Culture. Member of the Association of Polish Writers, PEN-Club and ZAIKS, scholar at Columbia University, the Fulbright Foundation, MacDowell, Ledig-Rowohlt, Kościuszko Foundation, Yad Vashem and the American Jewish Archives. Winner of the Xavier Pruszynski PEN-Club award for outstanding achievements in the field of documentary and fiction. Tuszyńska was awarded the Silver Gloria Artist Medal.

In 2016 she was awarded the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in a category of Holocaust Literature for Family History of Fear.

The newest book "Bagaż osobisty. Po Marcu" is a polyphonic story about the generation of post-March emigrants who left Poland with a “travel document” stating that its holder is no longer a citizen of the country. It is the story of growing up, friendship, losing one’s homeland and starting a new life as an emigrant. Co-written with the participants of a History Meeting House seminar: Dorota Barczak-Perfikowska, Grażyna Latos, Elżbieta Strzałkowska, and Wiola Wejman.

Selected bibliography

  • I znowu list (Yet Another Letter). Warsaw: Oficyna Poetow, 1990.
  • Wisnowska. Warsaw: WAiF, 1990.
  • Rosjanie w Warszawie (The Russians in Warsaw). Warsaw: Interim, 1992.
  • Wyznania gorszycielki. Pamietniki Ireny Krzywickiej (Confessions of a Scandalous Woman). Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1992.
  • Zamieszkalam w ucieczce (I Reside in Escape). Lublin: Kresy, 1993.
  • Kilka portretow z Polska w tle. Reportaze izraelskie (Several Portraits with Poland in the Background: Reportage from Israel). Gdansk: Marabut, 1993.
  • Singer. Pejzaze pamieci (Singer: Landscapes of Memory). Gdansk: Marabut, 1994.
  • Wygrac kazdy dzien (To Win Each Day). Warsaw: Diana, 1996.
  • Adresat nieznany (Addressee Unknown). Warsaw: Diana 1998.
  • Dlugie zycie gorszycielki. Losy i swiat Ireny Krzywickiej (The long life of a Scandalous Woman. The World and Fortunes of Irena Krzywicka). Warsaw: Iskry, 1999.
  • Maria Wisnowska. Jeśli mnie kochasz - zabij!, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Książkowe Twój Styl, 2003
  • Miejsce przy oknie, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Nowy Świat, 2004
  • Rodzinna historia lęku [A Family History of Fear], Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005.
  • Ćwiczenia z utraty [Excercises in Loss], Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2007.
  • Krzywicka. Długie życie gorszycielki, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2009.
  • Oskarżona: Wiera Gran [Accused: Wiera Gran], Kraków, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2010.
  • Tyrmandowie. Romans amerykański [The Tyrmands. American Romance], Wydawnictwo mg, 2012
  • Wiera. Dramat w sześciu obrazach [Wiera. Drama in six images], „Dialog” 2013, nr 11
  • Narzeczona Schulza {The fiancee of Schulz], Kraków, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2015
  • Jamnikarium, Wydawnictwo MG, Warsaw 2016
  • Bagaż osobisty. Po Marcu, Dom Spotkań z Historią, 2018

Photo: Iza Grzybowska/MOVE, for VIVA! 23/2010