Happy birthday to Heinrich Böll!

On this day in 1917, German writer and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Heinrich Böll was born.

Böll’s body of work includes a number of canonical novels that are still read today. Billiards at Half-Past Nine (Billard um halb zehn, 1959), The Clown (Ansichten eines Clowns, 1963), Group Portrait with Lady (Gruppenbild mit Dame, 1971) and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, 1974) are among his most famous titles.

According to the citation for Böll’s Nobel Prize in 1972, Böll was honored “for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature.” At the website for the Nobel Prize, you can also read his Nobel Lecture, “An Essay on the Reason of Poetry.”

One of the more influential aspects of Böll’s writing is the concept of Trümmerliteratur, or “rubble literature,” discussed in Böll’s collection Missing Persons and Other Essays — a postwar literary genre dedicated to the question of what writing meant in the wake of the catastrophic destruction of World War II.

Many of Böll’s works have remained in print, and many of his most prominent works have recently been reprinted by Melville House in the “Essential Heinrich Böll” series, in which his Collected Stories will also soon appear.

Böll’s works have also been adapted to the cinema: some of the more famous adaptations of his work include Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum,  Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Not Reconciled and Machorka-Muff (based respectively on Billiards at Half-Past Nine and the story “Hauptstädtisches Journal”), and Aleksandar Petrović’s Group Portrait with Lady. Böll also wrote a segment of the anthology film Germany in Autumn.

Other resources on Böll and his work include:

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