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  • Mirjam PresslerAuthor–Germany

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Mirjam Pressler was born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1940 as the illegitimate child of a Jewish mother. She grew up in the care of foster parents, as well as in an orphanage. In her difficult childhood, reading became a secret sanctuary. After school, Mirjam Pressler studied painting and languages in Frankfurt am Main and Munich and also spent one year living in a kibbutz in Israel. Later, as single mother of three daughters, she took a variety of jobs to support her family. In 1979, at the age of thirty-nine, Mirjam Pressler decided to supplement her income by writing her first young adult novel.

For her debut, Bitterschokolade (Bitter Chocolate), she was awarded the Oldenburg Youth Literature prize. Since then, she has written over fifty books for children and young adults and has translated more than two hundred works from five languages. For her work, she has garnered numerous awards, among them the German Children's Literature Special Awards for her complete work both as author and translator. Pressler's anti-authoritarian novels are considered modern classics of German children's and young adult literature.

Pressler's books deal with the difficult side of living; they do not come with a classical happy ending but suggest, rather, strategies for survival. Mirjam Pressler takes children and adolescents seriously and shares their concerns. She succeeds in an unforgettable way in describing their cares, fears, and longings and in putting into words the most complex and secret of feelings. Her utmost concern, as she herself says, is "to speak and to express fears, desires, and not to hide or cover up inhibitions" (Pressler in Werkstattbuch, p. 46). In her books, Mirjam Pressler takes the side of the weak and champions the cause of tolerance and acceptance of others. Her protagonists include, for example, the overweight Eva in Bitterschokolade or Halinka, who grows up in an orphanage (Wenn das Glück kommt, muss man ihm einen Stuhl hinstellen [When Fortune Arrives, You Need to Offer Him a Chair]).

Beginning in the 1990s, the author has grappled increasingly with Jewish childhoods during the Holocaust in Europe, in particular with Anne Frank's story. Amongst others, she published a biography of Anne Frank with the title Ich sehne mich so…Die Lebensgeschichte der Anne Frank (Anne Frank: A Hidden Life). In her books, Pressler offers young readers a broad picture of the Shoah and encourages remembrance of the Jewish victims and survivors.

In addition to real experiences, Mirjam Pressler makes use of literary references and sources of world literature in order to promote intercultural understanding. Nathan und seine Kinder (Nathan and His Children), for example, is her adaptation of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's key text of the European Enlightenment, Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise). Like the original, Pressler's version makes a plea for tolerance and peaceful coexistence among different world religions, thus dealing with issues that have lost none of their brisance today.

With her books, Pressler stands up for the rights of the weak and disadvantaged, for religious tolerance, and against fascism. As author and translator, Mirjam Pressler is a champion for intercultural understanding through literature. [End Page 21]



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