Anna Seghers(Netty Radvanyi)

Photograph: Anna Seghers
Passport photo of Anna Seghers, Paris, mid-1930s
Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Anna-Seghers-Archiv, Fotokartei, Nr. 08, Mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Anne Radvanyi

Anna Seghers(Netty Radvanyi)

Einmal hat sie es trotzdem versucht: von sich selbst zu sprechen und von ihren realen Begebenheiten in der fernen westlichen Welt, unter armen Leuten, die ein plebejisches Spanisch sprechen. Die Erzählung vom „Ausflug der toten Mädchen“ kennt ein Ich […]. Es spricht von der Emigrantin Anna Seghers in Mexiko, und von der Heimat, von Mainz und vom Rhein.

[But she attempted it one time anyway: to talk about herself and about actual events in her life in the far west of the world, where she lived among the poor with their plebeian Spanish. The story of “The Excursion of the Dead Girls” has an “I” [...]. That “I” speaks of the emigrant Anna Seghers in Mexico, and of her homeland, of Mainz and of the Rhine. (ed. trans.)]

Literary scholar Hans Mayer on Anna Seghers, 1983

Bornon 19 November 1900 in Mainz, Germany
Diedon 1 June 1983 in Berlin, German Democratic Republic
ExileSwitzerland, France, Mexico
RemigrationGerman Democratic Republic

The student of art history at Heidelberg soon became aware that her calling was in fact writing. After receiving her doctorate with a work on Rembrandt she published under the name Seghers in the Frankfurter Zeitung. In 1928 she received the prestigious Kleist Prize for the stories Grubetsch and The Revolt of the Fishers of St. Barbara. The accompanying statement asserted that in both her mythological and realistic stories one could feel an “undertone of sensual ambiguity” which turned the plot into a compelling narrative.

In 1925 she moved to Berlin with her husband Laszlo Radvanyi and became involved with the German Communist Party. In 1929 she was a founding member of the Association of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors.

Following an interrogation in 1933 she fled into exile. Paris became the centre of her life, the couple settling in nearby Bellevue with their two children. Seghers gave talks at the Association for the Protection of German Writers and wrote for exile journals. Following the German occupation she fled to as-yet unoccupied southern France and worked on her novel Transit.

In spring 1941 Seghers managed to gain passage to Mexican exile on one of the last ships to leave Marseilles. In Mexico she became the president of the Heinrich Heine Club. An English translation of her novel The Seventh Cross was published by Little, Brown & Co. in Boston in 1942, while the German original was issued by El Libro Libre in Mexico City. In 1947 she returned to Berlin via Sweden and France and received the highly prestigious Georg Büchner Prize, issued by the city of Darmstadt. Between 1952 and 1978 Seghers was president of the Association of German Writers in East Germany. Her apartment in the East Berlin working-class district of Adlershof became a memorial of the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) of which Seghers was a member.

Selected works:
Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara (1928)
Das siebte Kreuz (1942)
Transit (englisch und spanisch 1944, deutsche EA 1948)
Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen (1946)
Die Toten bleiben jung (1949)
Sonderbare Begegnungen (1973)

Further reading:
Zehl Romero, Christiane: Anna Seghers. Eine Biographie 1900 – 1947. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag 2000