Polish literature

photo: Robert Renk

Janusz Głowacki

(born in 1938) is a writer of prose, plays, articles and screenplays. He made his literary debut with the short story collection The Centrifuge of Nonsense [Wirówka nonsensu] in 1968, and two years later published The New La-ba-da Dance [Nowy taniec la-ba-da].

The witty, brilliant and, above all, vitriolic works collected in these two books brought him not only popularity, but also led to him being cast in the role of an unfailing satirist ranting about pretentious cultural phenomena at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. His literary lampoons were aimed at the patrons of Warsaw’s salons and fashionable cafes. They exposed the glitzy culture of material success and unmasked various forms of trashiness and conformity. Głowacki worked on two fronts – in addition to short stories, he regularly published malicious articles about similar subject matter in the weekly Kultura. In the 1970s, he also became known as a playwright and scriptwriter (collaborating with such directors as Andrzej Wajda, Janusz Morgenstern and Marek Piwowski). Perhaps the most interesting text closing this period is the novella Give Us This Day [Moc truchleje] (1981), in which he makes reference to the events of August 1980 in a grotesque manner – the strike in the Gdańsk shipyard is described by a mentally disabled worker who is also an informer to the Security Service.

In 1981, Głowacki went to London for the premiere of his play Cinders [Kopciuch], and remained there, detained by the introduction of Martial Law in Poland. He soon moved to the USA, where, after a certain time, he became successful as a playwright. His first theatrical work which caught the attention of American critics was Hunting Cockroaches [Polowanie na karaluchy] (staged in 1987), but it was only with Antigone in New York [Antygona w Nowym Jorku] (staged in 1993) that Głowacki became a widely-known and respected author. In both of these tragi-comedic works, Głowacki makes reference to the painful experiences of immigrants who don’t find success in America – whether newcomers from Poland (Hunting Cockroaches) or such castaways as Puerto Rican Anita and a Russian Jew named Sasha (Antigone in New York).

At the beginning of the next decade, Głowacki renewed his presence as a prose-writer. He returned with a perverse novel, The Last Super [Ostatni cieć] (2001), the protagonist of which is an American designer, John Caine. But an equally important character is the watchman in the great fashion dictator’s palace – Kuba, an immigrant from Kielecczyzna. He is perhaps even more important, since he begins his duties on the day when his boss dies. In this novel, Głowacki’s old passions are revived – his penchant for tracking down inauthenticity and pretence, and for exposing false cults and prophets (Caine is the greatest of these; his life’s work is designing men’s underwear). But the scale here is incomparable to anything else; after all, we’re in America, which is capable of imposing any idiotic thing on the world. The absurdities of modernity which, to some extent, have accumulated in the USA clearly fascinate Głowacki; perhaps what interests him the most is how fame is achieved in America. This is what inspired the novel Good night, Dżerzi (2010), in which the staggering career of Jerzy Kosiński was subjected to a critical analysis. Kosiński, the author of The Painted Bird [Malowany ptak] – a brilliant master of deception and exceptionally clever manipulator – attracts, in his own peculiar way, the novel’s protagonist, Dżanus, who is collecting materials with the aim of making a biographical film. Głowacki made the novel’s screenwriter resemble himself, and he also wove original reflections on American culture and morality into the novel.

Głowacki’s memoir, From the Top of My Head [Z głowy] (2004), became a bestseller. This book is an unusual autobiography full of entertaining anecdotes and perceptive observations, presented as a series of digressions (like, as the title suggests, a story straight from the head, and thus without a fixed structure). In this book, Głowacki perhaps most comprehensively presents his worldview – pertaining both to art and life – with his fundamental rule: one must protect oneself from the world’s cruelty and the malice of fate through sarcasm and humour. His book I Came, or How I Wrote a Screenplay About Lech Wałęsa for Andrzej Wajda [Przyszłem, czyli jak pisałem scenariusz o Lechu Wałęsie dla Andrzeja Wajdy] (2013) describes how he managed to survive in difficult situations. The book not only gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the making of a film about the leader of the Solidarity movement, but, above all, cleverly presents the numerous misunderstandings between the scriptwriter and the director. Głowacki, although he would have been fully justified in removing his name from the film’s credits, didn’t do so – as usual, he turned something unpleasant into an intelligent joke.


  • Wirówka nonsensu. Warszawa: PIW, 1968.
  • Nowy taniec la-ba-da i inne opowiadania, Warszawa: PIW, 1970.
  • Cudzołóstwo ukarane, „Dialog”, 1972.
  • Paradis, Warszawa: PIW, 1973.
  • Mecz, „Dialog” 1976.
  • Moc truchleje, Warszawa: Krąg, 1981.
  • Polowanie na karaluchy, „Dialog” 1990.
  • Fortynbras się upił, „Dialog” 1990.
  • Antygona w Nowym Jorku. „Dialog” 1992.
  • Ścieki, skrzeki, karaluchy. Utwory prawie wszystkie, Warszawa: BGW, 1996.
  • Czwarta siostra (wyst. 2000)
  • Ostatni cieć, Warszawa: Czytelnik, 2001
  • Z głowy, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2004.
  • Jak być kochanym, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2005.
  • Pięć i pół, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2007.
  • Good night, Dżerzi, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2010.
  • Sonia, która za dużo chciała, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2011.
  • Przyszłem, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2013.



  • Utkáni [Mecz], Prague, 1979.
  • Good night, Dżerzi, trans. Petr Vidlák, Prague: Host, 2014


  • Fortinbras Gets Drunk, New York, 1990.
  • Antigone in New York [Antygona w Nowym Jorku], trans. Janusz Glowacki, Joan Torres. New York: S. French, cop. 1997.
  • Give Us This Day [Moc truchleje], trans. Konrad Brodziński. London: A. Deutsch, 1983.
  • Cinders: a play in two acts [Kopciuch], trans. Christina Paul. New York; London: French, c1985.
  • Hunting Cockroaches [Polowanie na karaluchy], trans. Jawiga Kosicka. New York : S. French, cop. 1987.
  • The fourth sister [Czwarta siostra]. New York: Samuel French, 2003.


  • Paradiis [Paradis] trans. Helgi Loik. Tallinn: Perioodika, 1981. – 82.
  • Fortinbras jői end täis: ja teisi näidendeid [Fortinbras się upił; Polowanie na karaluchy; Antygona w Nowym Jorku], Laiuse: H. Lindepuu: Jauker Grupp OÜ, 2006.


  • My sweet Raskolnikov et autres récits [My sweet Raskolnikow], trans. Jean-Yves Erhel. Montricher: Editions Noir sur Blanc, 1989.
  • La grève [Moc truchleje], trans. Valentine Verdier. Paris: O. Orban, 1982.
  • La quatrième soeur [Czwarta siostra], trans. Kinga and Klara Wyrzykowska. Paris: L'avant-scène. Théâtre; no 1153, 2004.
  • Antigone à New York [Antygona w Nowym Jorku], trans. Olivier Cohen, Urszula Mikos. Paris: Éd. Théâtrales; [Montpellier]: Maison Antoine Vitez, impr. 2005.


  • Bestrafter Ehebruch [Cudzołóstwo ukarane], Berlin: Henschel, 1974.
  • Ich kann nicht klagan [Moc truchleje], trans. Christa Vogel. Zürich: Unionsverlag, 1983.
  • Aschenkinder [Kopciuch], trans. Julian Siegmund Bielicki. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp-Theaterverl., 1985.
  • Die Unterhose, die Lotterie und das Schwein: Roman [Ostatni cieć], trans. Albrecht Lempp. Innsbruck: Skarabaeus, c 2004.


  • Geniki apergía [Kopciuch], tłum. Níkos Fokás. Athi’na: Estia, 1985.


  • Good night, Dżerzi [Good night, Dżerzi], transl. Ilay Halpern, Tel Aviv: Schocken Publishing House, 2014


  • Légyvadászat [Nowy taniec la-ba-da], Budapeszt, 1973.
  • Svábbogárvadaszat, Budapeszt, 1989.
  • Good night Jerzy [Good night, Jerzy], trans. Tempfli Péter, Budapeszt: Európa Könyvkiadó, 2012


  • Poslednij storož [Ostatni cieć], Moskva: Inostranka, 2004
  • Iz golowy [Z głowy], Moskva: NLO, 2008


  • Antigone i New York och andra pjäser [Antygona w Nowym Jorku], trans. Lennart Ilke. Uppsala: Ilke, 2003 (Stockholm: Elander Gotab)
  • Den siste portvakten [Ostatni cieć], trans. Lennart Ilke, Uppsala: Tomasz Pankowskis Förlag, 2005


  • Najwiższi budinki, najgalibszi mogili, trans. Oleksandr Irwaniec, Kiev: Tempora, 2014

Other translations - into Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Serbian, Russian, Slovak.