European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

11 September 2015

Joost Zwagerman (1963-2015)

On Tuesday of this week Joost Zwagerman, one of three most read Dutch authors of our generation, took his own life. 

Photograp of Joost ZwagermanJoost Zwagerman in 2010 (picture by Jost Hindersmann from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0) 

Zwagerman was a prolific author, poet, commentator, art critic and polemicist. In 2010 he was awarded De Gouden Ganzenveer  (The Golden Quill) for his whole oeuvre, one of several literary awards during his career. In the same year he wrote the Boekenweekcadeau the annual ‘gift’ for the Dutch National Book Week. Being invited to write this is considered one of the biggest accolades in the literary world.

Zwagerman very much engaged with his readers and the general public in the Netherlands and abroad. He spent two weeks as author-in-residence at the University of Sheffield. Whilst his work is not (yet) translated into English, English speakers can get a real flavour of his wonderful style from the account he wrote of his experiences in Sheffield on (click on ‘Engels’ for the translation).

He frequently appeared on television, where he talked about art and culture, a topic he wrote about in many of his works. A better advocate for art and literature will be hard to find. His enthusiasm was inspiring.

He also wrote about suicide (his father attempted suicide and a close friend of his died by assisted suicide). In ‘Door eigen hand: zelfmoord en de nabestaanden’, freely translated as ‘By one’s own hand: suicide and next of kin’ he strongly argued against it, which makes his own suicide all the more poignant.

His work was translated into German, French, Czech, Hungarian and Japanese, but as already stated,  does not appear in English. That is a shame. Joost Zwagerman deserves to be translated into the world language that is English and reach a much wider audience.

Covers of three of Joost Zwagerman's books
Some of Jost Zwagerman's books from the British Library's collections

The British Library holds most of his works, which can be found by using our catalogue Explore.

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries collections

A brief selection of titles by Joost Zwagerman, held by the British Library:

De Houdgreep (Amsterdam, 1986). YA.1994.a.3152

Gimmick! (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1990.a.3895

Vals Licht (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.27376

Collegas van God (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.a.25914

De Mooiste Vrouw ter Wereld: gedichten (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.b.8597

Duel (Amsterdam, 2010;  Gift for the National Book week) YF.2010.a.9478

Alles is gekleurd: omzwervingen in de kunst (Amsterdam, 2011) YF.2013.a.7001

De wereld is hier: een keuze uit eigen werk (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2012.a.34077

Kennis is geluk: nieuwe omzwervingen in de kunst (Utrecht, 2013) YF.2013.a.22414


Staff and students at UCL also had the good fortune to work with Joost Zwagerman and will miss his openness and humility. Despite being a big name and personality he welcomed our readings and translations of his work. A great loss to the literary world.

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