Michał Głowiński, Polish philologist, Died at 88


Michał Głowiński, a distinguished Polish philologist, historian, and literary theorist, dedicated his life to the study of Polish literature and made significant contributions to academia. Born on November 4, 1934, in Warsaw, his journey was marked by both academic excellence and personal resilience. He passed away on September 29, 2023, leaving behind a legacy that transcends his remarkable achievements.

Early Life and Survival

Michał Głowiński’s early years were deeply influenced by the tumultuous events of World War II. In the early stages of the war, his family was confined to the Pruszków ghetto and later transferred to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. At just five years old, Głowiński experienced the horrors of war firsthand.

Remarkably, Głowiński’s life took a turn for the better when he was rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto by a heroic figure, Irena Sendler. He was placed under the care of the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Servants in Turkowice, where he found refuge. His memoir, “Black Seasons,” vividly portrays his time in the orphanage, highlighting the contrast between the cruelty of some children and the kindness of others.

However, the shadow of the Holocaust remained ever-present. In July 1942, during the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, half a million Jewish residents were sent to the treacherous Treblinka gas chambers. Głowiński and his parents narrowly escaped this fate, thanks to the intervention of a Jewish police officer in Warsaw who knew his father and facilitated their escape.

Academic Pursuits

After the war, Michał Głowiński pursued higher education, ultimately studying Polish studies at the University of Warsaw. In 1955, he graduated with a master’s degree. His academic journey included a scholarship at the Department of Theory of Literature under the guidance of Kazimierz Budzyk from 1955 to 1958. During this time, Głowiński began to engage in critical practice, reviewing poetry collections in publications like “Życie Literackie” and “Twórczość.”

In 1958, Głowiński joined the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Literary Study, where he would make significant contributions to the field. In 1967, he completed his dissertation titled “A collection of studies in the history and theory of the Polish novel,” earning his academic title of professor in 1976.

Głowiński was not only an accomplished scholar but also an advocate for social change. In 1980, he signed a letter urging communist authorities to engage in dialogue with striking workers, showcasing his commitment to broader societal issues.

Literary Contributions

Głowiński’s prolific career included the publication of approximately 30 books on Polish studies. Some of his most renowned works include:

  • “Order, Chaos, Meaning” (1968): A groundbreaking exploration of literary themes.
  • “The Young-Polish Novel” (1969): An insightful analysis of Polish literature.
  • “Black Seasons” (1998): A deeply personal work that delves into his experiences during World War II.
  • “Rings of Alienation”: An exploration of Communist propaganda and his childhood in the Polish Ghettos.

Personal Life and Public Coming Out

Apart from his academic achievements, Głowiński lived a private life with his wife, Sue, and raised a family. His children included Digger Bujnoch and Austen Bujnoch, who carried on their own journeys, with Digger exploring a career in the NFL.

In 2010, Głowiński published an autobiographical novel titled “Circles of Strangeness,” which also marked his public coming out as gay. This courageous step added another layer to his identity and was a testament to his openness and honesty.

Awards and Honors

Throughout his illustrious career, Michał Głowiński received numerous accolades and distinctions. He held four honorary degrees and was recognized for his outstanding contributions to literature and academia. Some of his notable awards include:

  • Kazimierz Wyka Award in 2002.
  • Alfred Toepfer Foundation Award in 2004.
  • Gold Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis in January 2007.
  • Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in recognition of his services in researching and commemorating the history of March ’68.

Additionally, he was nominated four times for the prestigious Nike Literary Award, reflecting the high esteem in which his literary works were held.

Michał Głowiński’s life journey, marked by both personal resilience and academic excellence, serves as an inspiration to scholars and individuals alike. His contributions to literature, history, and the fight for social justice will continue to resonate for generations to come.