Boris A. Novak was born in Belgrade in 1953, Serbia. He is a Slovenian poet, playwright, translator, and essayist. He is a professor at the Department for Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana.
From the 1970s on Novak had been active in the movement for the democratization of society and for freedom of expression. As President of the Slovenian PEN (1991–1996) and Chair of the Writers for Peace Committee of PEN International (1994–2000) Novak organized humanitarian help for refugees from the former Yugoslavia and writers from Sarajevo – this was one of the greatest humanitarian efforts in the history of the Organization. Since 2002 he has been a vice-president of PEN International. Novak is active in the struggle for the protection of human rights of different minorities in Slovenia (the “erased,” Roma population, etc.). Together with the Flemish writer Monika van Paemel he has established “The Society of the Friends of Lipica” which strives to protect the endangered horse species of Lipizzans. He is a member of the French poetry Académie Mallarmé.
So far he has published the following volumes of poems: Stihožitje (Still-Life-in-Verses, 1977), Hči spomina (Daughter of Memory, 1981), 1001 stih (1001 Verses, 1983), Kronanje (Coronation, 1984), Stihija (Cataclysm, 1991), Mojster nespečnosti (The Master of Insomnia, 1995), Alba (1999), Odmev (Echo, 2000), Žarenje (Glowing, 2003), Obredi slovesa (Rituals of Farewell, 2005), Dlaneno platno (the selected poems Linen Palms, 2006), and MOM: Mala Osebna Mitologija (LPM: Little Personal Mythology, 2007), Satje (Honeycomb; prose poems written in 1975–76, published in 2010), Definicije (Definitions), written in 1973–75, published in 2013, Zemljevidi domotožja (The Mapping of the Forsaken Home, 2014), and Čas očetov (The Time of Fathers, 2015), the first two among three books of the epos Vrata nepovratna (The Doors of No Return, 2014) which contains 40,000 lines about the atrocities of the 20th century.
He has also published handbooks of poetic forms Oblike sveta (Forms of the World, 1991), and Oblike srca (Forms of the Heart, 1997). Novak writes a lot for children; for them he has published eight volumes of poems and two books of fairy tales. Alongside 15 puppet and radio plays for children, he has written several plays for adults, among them, the dramatic chronicle Vojaki zgodovine (Soldiers of History, 1988), the verse play Hiša iz kart (House of Cards, 1988), the tragedy Cassandra (2001) about the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the tragicomedy Lipicanci gredo v Strasbourg (Lipizzans go to Strasbourg, 2006), and the play Knjiga je čevelj (The Book is a Shoe, 2008).
Novak’s poems have been translated into many languages; book editions of his poems have been published in the United States, France, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The most recent English selection of his poems, The Master of Insomnia, was published by Dalkey Archive Press (USA, UK, Ireland) in 2012.
Novak translates French, ancient Provençal, as well as American, English, German, Italian and Spanish poetry, and literature written in Dutch and in South-Slavic languages. So far he has published translations of Stéphane Mallarmé (1989), Paul Valéry (1992), Josip Osti (1992), Paul Verlaine (1996, 2000), Edmond Jabès (1996), Seamus Heaney (1997), and many poets in anthologies of Bosnian, Serbian, American, English, and Flemish poetry. In 2001 he has published a huge anthology of modern French poetry (more than 800 pages), and in 2003 the first anthology of Provençal “troubadours” in Slovene Ljubezen iz daljave (Distant Love). He translated poems of the Flemish avant-guard poet Paul van Ostaijen (2009), and novels The Difference (2003) and Marguerite (2009) by the Flemish writer Monika van Paemel.
In 1991 he was a visiting professor (American Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His main fields of research are comparative poetics, literary translation, medieval and renaissance poetry, and symbolism.
Novak has received many national and international awards for his work. In Slovenia he is a recipient of the Prešeren Fund Award (1984) and the Jenko Award for poetry (1995), the Sovrè Award for his translation of Mallarmé’s poetry (1990), and the “Golden Sign” of the Scientific and Research Centre of the Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciences for his theoretical work (1998). The International Board of Books for Young Readers (IBBY) included Novak’s fairy tale Mala in velika luna (The Little and the Big Moon, 1994) on the Honour list of the best stories in 1998. The Association of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina has given him the international award “Bosanski stećak” for his literary opus, in 2000. The French Repiblic has named him “Le chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques” (2008) and “Le Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (2011).