20.07.2023 Events, Literature

Dorota Masłowska with Benjamin Paloff

S3E7 and all video recordings are available at:

Encounters with Polish Literature is a video series for anyone interested in literature and the culture of books and reading. Each month, host David A. Goldfarb will present a new topic in conversation with an expert on that author or book or movement in Polish literature. More about the Encounters with Polish Literature series and the timeline.

Dorota Masłowska born 1983 in the Polish town of Wejherowo near Gdańsk, entered the public eye at age of 19 with the debut of her novel Snow White and Russian Red, which depicts an urban periphery of cynical Polish teenagers from the housing projects searching for meaning and identity, and she wrote it in a version of their own vernacular enhanced by her unique imagination. A striking example of postmodernism meeting post-Communism, this debut book won instant acclaim and notoriety, winning the prestigious 2003 Polityka Passport in literature for “her personal take on Polish reality and creative use of common language.” It was almost immediately translated into several languages, including French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Russian, English, Hungarian and Czech, and adapted for the screen by Xawery Żuławski in 2009.

Masłowska’ second novel, The Queen’s Peacock (2005), won Poland’s highest literary award, the Nike Prize, a controversial choice over seven other finalists, including Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska. The title in Polish, Paw Królowej, is a play on words that also translates as The Queen’s Puke. Described as a prose-poem as well as a rap song, it scathingly satirizes media-makers and pop stars, as well as the author’s own success. Theatrical adaptations of both books have been performed widely in Poland.

In 2006 Masłowska’s debut play, A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians, was commissioned and staged by the TR Warszawa theater, and it has since been staged in London, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, Chicago, and New York. A second play, No Matter How Hard We Tried, was commissioned by TR Warszawa and Berlin’s Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, and premiered in Berlin at the Internationales Autorenfestival in March 2009, and has been performed in Poland and Stockholm, bringing Masłowska the prize for best playwright at the 9th All-Poland Festival of Contemporary Dramaturgy in Zabrze and the Grand Prix at the theatrical Divine Comedy in Kraków in 2009. Masłowska has received a DAAD Artists Program Fellowship in support of her residency in Berlin. Masłowska was a guest in the 2007 PEN World Voices Festival in New York and her remembrance of the time of Communism, “Faraway, So Gross,” appears in the Words without Borders anthology The Wall in My Head (2009).

She has since published, Honey I Killed the Cats, which might be characterized as an off-kilter tale of a friendship between two women, and she has produced two hip-hop albums, published another narrative work in rap form called Other People, as well as books that play with the young adult form for a grown up audience, discussed in this episode. Four of her dramatic works in English translation came out in 2023.

Works by Masłowska in English:

Four Plays by Dorota Masłowska (including “No Matter How Hard We Try,” tr. Artur Zapalowski; “A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians, tr. Benjamin Paloff; “How I Became a Witch,” tr. Artur Zapalowski; and “Bowie in Warsaw,” tr. Soren Gauger). New York: Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, 2023.
Honey I Killed the Cats. Tr. Benjamin Paloff. Dallas, Tx.: Deep Vellum, 2019.
Snow White and Russian Red. Tr. Benjamin Paloff. Ill. Krzysztof Ostrowski. New York: Black Cat, 2005.

Masłowska’s Hip-Hop Albums:

Dorota. Wolne (“Free”). SBM, 2023.
Mister D. Społeczenstwo jest niemiłe (“Society is Unpleasant”). Galeria Raster, 2014.

Benjamin Paloff is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, where he also directs the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES) and is a faculty affiliate of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Copernicus Center for Polish Studies. His books include Lost in the Shadow of the Word (Space, Time, and Freedom in Interwar Eastern Europe) (Northwestern University Press, 2016), which was named the 2018 Best Book in Literary Studies by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages, and two poetry collections, And His Orchestra (2015) and The Politics (2011), both published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His poems have appeared in a wide range of periodicals, including Boston ReviewConduitNew American WritingThe New RepublicThe New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review. He has translated about a dozen books and many shorter literary and theoretical texts from Polish, Czech, Russian, and Yiddish, notably works by Dorota Masłowska, Marek Bieńczyk, Richard Weiner, and Yuri Lotman, and he has received grants and fellowships from the Michigan Society of Fellows (2007-2010), the Stanford Humanities Center (2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2009, 2016), among others. 

Lead image: Dorota Masłowska.

Bartek Remisko, Executive Producer
David A. Goldfarb, Host & Producer 
Natalia Iyudin, Producer

Scheduled Events >Literature