Sławomir Mrożek (1930-2013) was Poland's famous master of satire, brilliant Theatre of the Absurd playwright, lampoonist of the totalitarian system, political cartoonist, and 'Honorary Citizen of Kraków' whose work was often compared to that of Eugène Ionesco and Václav Havel. Born in the Małopolska village of Borzęcin, Mrożek spent much of his life in self-imposed exile in Western Europe and North America where he could live and work freely, though he returned to Kraków for a number of years in 1996. His allegorical, absurdist and surrealist plays and short stories were periodically banned in his homeland depending on the current political climate, and he even had his passport revoked in 1968 after penning an open letter to the Western press condemning Poland's involvement in ending the Prague Spring. Abroad, his works mostly filled a hipster niche, due to both the notoriously-difficult-to-translate wordplay and the subtle allusions to the workings of a state communist system that - while immediately understood at home - often went over Westerners' heads. All the same, his plays were performed Off Broadway, at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in NYC, and by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, among others. Passing away in 2013 just weeks before the announcement that Kraków had been designated a UNESCO City of Literature, the author’s ashes are kept in the national pantheon for Poles distinguished in the arts in the Church of St. Peter and Paul.
What to Read:
Go for a collection of absurdist short stories like TheElephant (the first story tells of a fake rubber elephant that a zoo’s management wants to pass off as the real thing), or read Mrożek’s most famous play, the 1964 drama Tango, which examines the conflict between conformism, anarchy, entropy, and formalism. The work was translated into 20 languages and brought the writer international fame.