Ferencz Győző: Biography

Győző Ferencz (Budapest, 4 April 1954 –)

Attila József Prize-winning poet, literary historian, literary translator. Member of the Digital Literature Academy since 2019.


Győző Ferencz was born on 4 April 1954 in Budapest. He grew up in Lágymányos, living with his parents and sister on Bocskai Street. His first name is a multi-generational heritage. His father worked as a labour lawyer for the Ministry of Culture, which changed its name over the decades, and his mother was an administrator in cultural institutions. He began his primary education at the Baranyai Street Primary School, and from the sixth grade onwards he continued his studies at the Fehérvári Street Primary School, where he studied English. Language was the main criterion when he chose Madách Secondary School, which also offered English as a foreign language. In Hódmezővásárhely, he completed the standard eleven months of pre-enlistment military service. After graduating from Eötvös Loránd University in 1978 with a degree in Hungarian and English, he taught both subjects at the Jedlik Ányos Secondary School in Csepel (1978–1987), then joined the English-speaking group of Európa Publishing House as an editor (1982–1993), and from 1983 became an assistant professor in the English Department (later the Institute of English and American Studies) at ELTE. Between 1982 and 1993 he held, in various combinations and sometimes simultaneously, several full-time and part-time posts at the three institutions. He married in 1977 and had three children in the 1980s. He obtained his doctorate from ELTE in 1982, his PhD in 1997, and he habilitated in 2010. He was appointed associate professor in 1998 and professor in 2014. He was head of the department from 2005 to 2009, and from 2014 until his retirement in 2020, he was the head of the doctoral programme in Modern Anglo-American Literature and Culture at the Doctoral School of Literature.

Throughout his career, he had a defining relationship with „Tradition and Individual Talent” – to which he alludes in one of the two poems in his first publication, Mozgó Világ (1977/3). The title, borrowed from T. S. Eliot’s essay of the period, indicates that Győző Ferencz not only often examines the role and functional mechanisms of literature and culture in society, but that – in keeping with Eliot’s spirit – he also conducts his own work in the awareness of its historical context. He has and continues to participate in several intellectual workshops – schools, editorial offices, research groups, etc. – which are not primarily generational, but do link successive generations. In the 1980s, he was a member of a circle of English faculty members, self-deprecatingly known as „Parnassus”. Between 1980 and 1993 he was an external member of the Institute of Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and between 1990 and 1993 he was its secretary. Between 1989 and 1991, he was one of the editors of the yearbook of the literary magazine Újhold. Between 1991 and 2000 he edited the Anglo-Saxon literature and poetry section of the magazine Nagyvilág, and from 2005 to 2008 he edited the Student Library series of Osiris Publishing House. He taught prose writing to students of the Invisible College from 1993 to 1998, to students of the Bolyai College of ELTE from 1998 to 2003, to students of the Erasmus College the following year, and to staff of the Hungarian National Bank from 2001 to 2010. From 1998 to 2006 he was a regular external participant in the Hungarian Radio’s literary programme, and between 1998 and 2009 he was a regular literary critic for the daily newspaper Népszabadság.

He has been a member of the Hungarian PEN. Club since 1980, of the Hungarian Writers’ Association from 1988–2004, and of the Society of Hungarian Authors since 2008. He was elected a member of the Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts in 2004, and its Executive President in 2009. He has been the recipient of several fellowships, including a Fulbright Research Fellowship at Oberlin College (Ohio, USA) in 1991 and 1995-1996.

His first book of poems, If There Weren’t Any Traces (Ha nem lenne semmi nyom), was published in 1981. Although they did not know each other personally at the time, the volume itself was published on Dezső Tandori’s recommendation, and the editor of this unusual pairing of sonnets and prose verse was Balázs Lengyel. In the second book of poems, Omlásveszély (Falling Debris, 1989), László Lator emphasises the „glow beneath the text” which indicates that the author’s „natural medium is the commonplace, the poetically unpretentious, the prosaic”, and that he „knows the craft superbly,” and „wants to do everything honestly, not relying on so-called inspiration.” There is also an attitude of conscious opposition to the Romantic poetic role in the frequent references to natural science (e.g. Fractal Consciousness, The Ramsey Party) and the mostly ironic tone. The third book, Two Arcs. Poems and Translations (Két ív. Versek és fordítások, 1993), makes an unusual gesture by publishing his own poems as well as poems translated from English in one volume. In this approach, „»literary translation« and »poetry« presuppose and interpret each other”, since „[the] structure of the book assigns the »own« poems to the various modes of discourse of hundreds of years of literary history, while the translator »appropriates« them by selecting and arranging the texts”, writes Gábor Schein about the volume.

Since the late 1990s, all of Győző Ferencz’s recent poetry collections have been coalescing. Ever Farther From Myself (Magamtól egyre messzebb. 1997) is a selection of material from the three previous volumes and of poems written in the meantime. The pieces, arranged in four cycles with a uniform logic, deal with the question of consciousness. In 2000, Under a Low Sky. Old and New Poems (Alacsony ég alatt. Régi és új versek) was published. The collection re-publishes the material of the first two volumes with minor changes under the same cycle titles. This construction, which always organises the old and new poems into new units, is also characteristic of Rupture (Szakadás, 2010), in which the author has collected the poems he wrote after his first three books. The most recent collection – The World Vanished This Morning (Ma reggel eltűnt a világ, 2018) – is a rethinking of his entire poetic oeuvre. Several reviewers emphasise the strong philosophical character of the book.

Győző Ferencz is not only a poet, but also a translator, editor, and literary historian who has done outstanding work primarily in the field of twentieth-century and contemporary Hungarian, English, Irish, and American poetry. Among his numerous editorial works, the most important are the anthology of Hungarian poetry published by Osiris Publishing (2003) and the publication of the diary of Miklós Radnóti’s wife Fanni Gyarmati (Diary 1935–1946, I–II, 2014, revised reprint: 2018). His greatest literary historical undertaking is the management of the Radnóti estate, especially the life and poetry of Miklós Radnóti.

Győző Ferencz’s editorial and literary translation activities are closely linked. He has done much to promote English-language lyric poetry in Hungary, first as editor of Europa Publishing House, then as editor of Nagyvilág and several anthologies. As a translator, he has translated hundreds of poems by dozens of authors, from English classics to contemporary Irish poets, and his own volumes include John Donne's Negative Love and Tony Harrison’s long poem, V.


The biography was written by Katalin Szlukovényi, translated by Benedek Totth and Austin Wagner.