A Secret Life: Uwe Johnson in Sheerness

"I got the nickname 'the Poet of the Divided Germany' which I didn't want to be at all," the writer Uwe Johnson protested in an interview recorded five years before his death in 1984.

So why did this serious, uncompromising writer, who also lived in New York in the mid-1960s, decide to settle in unglamorous Sheerness, Kent in 1974? It was a move which many of his contemporaries found difficult to understand.

Johnson had won considerable acclaim in 1959 for his first published novel, Speculations about Jakob, a book which was among the first to feature characters torn between East and West Germany. He established himself as a major literary writer.

Yet rather than Berlin, London or New York, Johnson chose Sheerness - in his words, a 'much maligned' town. He asked his English neighbours to call him Charlie, because he thought they would struggle to say Uwe. He regularly enjoyed nights in the local pubs, and wrote detailed accounts of the conversations he overheard there. Meanwhile he was attempting to finish his epic novel Anniversaries.

Patrick Wright tries to find out why Johnson chose Sheerness, talking to his Sheerness neighbour, and other friends who knew him during his years there. He also hears about Johnson's earlier life, growing up under Hitler and then Stalin, and how this shaped his approach to writing fiction.

The programme includes new translations by Damion Searls of Johnson's writings from Sheerness.

Producer John Goudie

First broadcast in April 2015.

Release date:

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 28 Jul 2016 22:00

Related topics

Featured in...

Six Secret Smuggled Books

Nelson mandela

Six classic works of literature we wouldn't have read if they hadn't been smuggled...

Grid

Grid

Seven images inspired by the grid

World Music collector, Sir David Attenborough

JS114374909 attenborough large trans K8oq TXSPAJ0t21o ESlo XRk CIv3505 E63j Nj QF1 Hma4

The field recordings Attenborough of music performances around the world.

Attenborough's field recordings

Attenborough's field recordings

The unlikely music performances captured while searching for exotic animals to film.