Christa Wolf (vawlf) was born on March 18, 1929, in Landsberg on the Warthe (now the Polish town of Gorzów Wielkopolski), the daughter of Hertha Jaekel Ihlenfeld and grocer Otto Ihlenfeld. Wolf and her family fled the approaching Russian troops in 1945 and migrated west to Mecklenburg. After World War II, Wolf was among the first to write about her personal involvement in the war without creating false, antifascist heroes.
She studied German literature in Jena and Leipzig from 1949 to 1953. Wolf later worked as a reader and editor for journals and publishing houses and served on the executive committee of the Writers’ Union of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). She married writer, scholar, and publisher Gerhard Wolf in 1951, and the couple’s daughters, Annette and Katrin, were born in 1952 and 1956, respectively.
Wolf worked for a time in a factory as a means of involving workers in literary activity, and she also was a member of a working writers’ group. She participated in several International Writers’ Conferences on Peace in the 1980’s, traveled extensively, served as a writer-in-residence at several American universities, and was a fellow at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles.
A dedicated socialist active in both the political and literary world of the GDR, Wolf protested the ills of East Germany while maintaining a firm belief in socialism itself. When East Germany’s political system was disintegrating in 1989, she appealed to her fellow citizens to build a new socialist East Germany rather than succumb to the economic allure of the West. Although unheeded, her appeal verifies her commitment to humanistic ideals in a socialist setting. As a feminist, antiwar writer, and independent thinker, Wolf criticizes the patriarchal and military complexes of both East and West.
Wolf became the center of controversy in 1990, after the publication of her novella, Was Bleibt: Erzählung (1990; What Remains, 1993). Written in the late 1970’s, the book records the experiences of a young woman writer placed under surveillance by East Germany’s secret police. Critics accused Wolf of being an opportunist who was willing to publish such a piece only when it had become both safe and fashionable to do so. This attack sparked a debate as to whether she and other GDR writers had been collaborators with or true voices of protest against a repressive regime. In a talk in Los Angeles in 1993, Wolf discussed the...
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