ver the past three decades, Dubravka Ugresic has established herself as one of Europe’s most distinctive novelists and essayists. From her early postmodernist excursions, to her elegiac reckonings in fiction and the essay with the disintegration of her Yugoslav homeland and the fall of the Berlin Wall, through to her more recent writings on popular and literary culture, Ugresic’s work is marked by a rare combination of irony, polemic, and compassion.
Following degrees in Comparative and Russian Literature, Ugresic worked for many years at the University of Zagreb’s Institute for Theory of Literature, successfully pursuing parallel careers as both a writer and as a scholar. In 1991, when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Ugresic took a firm anti-war stance, critically dissecting retrograde Croatian and Serbian nationalism, the stupidity and criminality of war, and in the process became a target for nationalist journalists, politicians and fellow writers. Subjected to prolonged public ostracism and persistent media harassment, she left Croatia in 1993. She therefore positions herself as a “transnational” or rather a “post-national” writer and champions the right of authors not to recognize or respect ethnic and national borders, especially in cases where these are being imposed by force, as they are in her case.
“For decades, to be a Yugoslav writer was to turn up at the literary events in the West and have people struggle to place you. Nowadays they place you all too specifically and for a writer, that is perhaps worse. Are you Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian? (…) What does this have to do with the pith of your style, your use of myth, your tutelary shades of Robert Musil, Italo Calvino or William Falukner? So for Dubravka Ugresic, a Croatian adrift in Western Europe and the United States, it was almost a pleasure when a shop assistant asked while spelling out her name:”Is it with those little guys above the letters?” At last, a literary question”. (Richard Eder, LA Times, April 23, 1995).
In an exile that has in time become emigration, her books have been translated into thirty languages. She has taught at a number of American and European universities, including Harvard, UCLA, Columbia and the Free University of Berlin. She was the winner of several major literary prizes (Austrian State Prize for European Literature 1998; finalist of Man Booker International Prize 2009; Jean Améry Essay Prize, awarded for her essayistic work as a whole, 2012; while Karaoke Culture was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism 2011. She was the winner of the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Dubravka Ugresic died on 17th of March 2023 in Amsterdam, surrounded by family and friends.