Günter Grass

A month ago today, on April 13th, Günter Grass died aged 87. He was one of the dominant figures of German contemporary literature, who rose to international fame and earned a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. His writing mainly dealt with the German Nazi past and is considered to be part of the genre of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past). He was socially engaged throughout his life and a firm supporter of left-wing politics, something he had in common with the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, who coincidentally died on the same day as Grass. The University Library has an extensive collection of Grass’s literary works and our holdings can be easily browsed by searching the catalogue for Grass as author, or doing a subject heading search for books about him.

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A selection of bookcovers desigend by Grass (S746.bb.200.1)

Grass originally wanted to be a painter and enjoyed and tried to incorporate painting into his life as much as possible. He reportedly said that it was something that he had always taken a keen interest in. He illustrated several of his works and usually also the covers of his books, but he also worked on his art as a painter and sculptor on works not connected to his literary output. He published some of his paintings later himself and several exhibitions were held. The UL also has a substantial collection of these works and catalogues that may not come directly to mind when thinking about Grass.

The UL has a comprehensive collection of his earlier artistic works present in the two-volume set Zeichnen und Schreiben : Das bildnerische Werk des Schriftstellers Günter Grass edited by Anselm Dreher (S404:23.bb.9.7 and S404:23.bb.9.8). The first volume, Günter Grass: Zeichnungen und Texte 1954-1977, was published in 1982 and focuses on his drawings, while the second, Günter Grass: Radierungen und Texte 1972-1982, was published two years later in 1984 and includes his etchings. Both volumes are accompanied by some of Grass’s texts. This set demonstrates that even though there is a close link between his writings and pictorial works, the latter do stand on their own and are not merely illustrations of his texts.

In Günter Grass: Mit Wasserfarben (S405.9.a.200.3) he compares himself to a sponge during the post-war period in which he absorbed everything he saw before squeezing it out again to make room to absorb more, but always holding on to some of it. Mit Wasserfarben focuses, as the title gives away, on his work with watercolour. It was his medium of choice before he entered a phase in which his drawings and paintings were mostly in black and white, before he tackled painting in colour again. The book is therefore a mixture of motifs that Grass used for practicing as much as for illustrating some of his literary works and ranges from his early drawings in France and Italy to fish on a barbecue and the mushrooms he picked during autumn.

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Günter Grass: In Kupfer, auf Stein (S404:5.b.9.143)

In 1995, after a controversy surrounding Grass, Peter Ludwig, a well-known and himself controversial German art collector, visited Grass and ended up buying a mixed lot of his works. Subsequently, these works were on display in the Ludwig Forum in Aachen which resulted in the publication of the exhibition catalogue Günter Grass: Ohne die Feder zu wechseln. Zeichnungen, Druckgraphiken, Aquarelle, Skulpturen (S404:23.a.9.77). The complete works of Grass’s etchings and lithographs can also be found in Günter Grass: In Kupfer, auf Stein. The UL holds two editions: the second edition of the original version published in 1986 (S404:5.b.9.143) and an expanded reprint from 1994 (S404:23.a.9.45).

The portfolio Fundsachen für Grass-Leser (S746.bb.200.1) was issued in 2002 for an exhibition by the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. Grass was a member of the Akademie, which acquired his archive in 1990. The Grass Archiv has been frequently updated, and in 2002 consisted of 60,000 leaves of manuscripts and work diaries as well as about 73,500 leaves of correspondence. It also includes a complete collection of his printed graphic works and a selection of his drawings. The portfolio, which was edited by Karin Kiwus and Wolfgang Trautwein, consists of six folders of selected facsimiles. It also includes a booklet introducing the Grass Archiv and providing the context for the collection of selected reprints chosen for the portfolio. The folders represent different aspects of Grass’s works and are separated into book covers, manuscripts of the beginnings of his novels, poems, word research, task schedules and drawings, and thus provide an insight into Grass’s working process.

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A selection of plans and outlines for his work (S746.bb.200.1)

Stephanie Palek

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