Lengyel Péter: Biography

Péter Lengyel (Budapest, 4 September 1939 –)

Kossuth and Attila József Prize-winning writer, literary translator. Member of the Digital Literature Academy since 2018.


Born on 4 September 1939 in Budapest. His birth name was Péter Merényi. His father, Endre Merényi, was a mechanical engineer. His mother was Olga Ent. Lengyel did not have any memories of his father, since he was two and a half years old when his father was called up to so-called community labour service for the third time; in reality, as a slave in his country’s army. He survived typhus and dysentery, was taken prisoner of war, and died of pneumonia. His son survived the war with the help of good people, including an International Red Cross Home. Afterwards he lived in an orphanage. In time, his mother married Sándor Lengyel, a chemical engineer and holder of the Righteous Among the Nations and Hungarian Pro Libertate medals. He adopted Péter, who took his name.

Lengyel graduated from the Árpád Secondary School in Óbuda. In 1958 he wrote his first short story: „Citroën DS 19 – Or the First Short Story” („Citroën DS 19 – avagy az első novella”). In 1962, he graduated in Spanish and Italian studies from Eötvös Loránd University. During his university years, he translated English, Spanish, and Italian prose (Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Chandler, Pirandello, Moravia, Juan Goytisolo, Quintana, Carpentier and others). Between 1963 and 1964 he was a Hungarian lecturer in Havana. From 1963, he worked as a festival organiser for the Hungarian Writers’ Association, and later as editor for Élet és Irodalom and Mozgó Világ. In 1967 he completed his first book, Two Darkenings (Két sötétedés), and in 1969 he wrote a science fiction novel, The Second Planet of the Ogg (Ogg második bolygója). In 1969–70, he wrote a novel, Supporting Characters (Mellékszereplők), which for political reasons could not be published until 1980. In 1978, he published his novel Breaking Tiles (Cseréptörés) and in 1982 his collection of short stories, Rondo (Rondó). He spent a semester in the United States at the invitation of the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. In 1988, Cobblestone (Macskakő) was published. During the years of the regime change, he completed his book, The Day Before Tomorrow (non-novel) 89–90–91 (Holnapelőtt [nem-regény] 89–90–91). In 1990-1993, he introduced creative writing at ELTE for the first time in Hungary. In 1993, he completed A Farewell in Two Voices (Búcsú két szólamban), co-authored with his father, Endre Merényi.

He was married to poet and writer Zsuzsa Takács from 1962 to 1982. He now lives with his second wife, Angéla Zsolt, an editor. He is a founding member of the Society of Hungarian Authors. In 2017, he was elected a member of the Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts and in 2018 of the Digital Literature Academy.


The biography was written by Anikó Radvánszky, translated by Benedek Totth and Austin Wagner.