1970 born in Debrecen
1985-89 Árpád Tóth Grammar School, Debrecen
1989-91 studies Hungarian History at the Teacher Training College, Budapest
1992-96 graduates in Hungarian Literature and Linguistics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
1997-98 editor for Cosmopolitan
János Térey’s poetry has been an important part of Hungarian literature since the early 1990s. Born in Debrecen, he studied Hungarian literature and history at the University of Budapest. After
working as an editor for a short time, in the late-1990s he turned to freelancing. Though Térey is known primarily as a poet, but he has also written works of prose. Drawn to longer narratives, he wrote a novel in verse, Paulus, and a play-ballad, A Niebelung-lakópark (Th e Niebelung Housing Estate). In these, Térey has not only reintroduced Classical forms; he reintroduced and enriched the tradition of the verse-novel. Th anks to two plays, Asztalizene (Table Music) and Jeremias avagy az
Isten hidege (Jeremy, or the Lord’s Cold), which have had successful runs in theaters, today Térey is also known as a playwright. Th e language of his poetry, which is one of the most distinct voices in
contemporary Hungarian literature, has added a unique dash of color to contemporary European verse.
His prizes include:
1990 Mozgó Világ�s Quality Prize, 1995 Tibor Déry Award, 1996 The Hungarian Radio�s Petőfi Prize, 2000 Alföld Prize, 2001 Attila József Prize, 2002 Palládium Prize, Milán Füst Prize, Tiszatáj Prize, Palatinus Quality Prize, 2003 The Guild of Theatre Editors� Prize, The Best Hungarian Drama of the Season, 2004 The Belletristic Society�s Prize, Shared 1st Prize in the Poetry Category of the Hungarian Cultural Ministry�s Contest, Ernő Szép Award, 2005 Book of the Year Prize, drama, Theatre Critics' Prize, 2006 Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, Knight Cross
János Térey is arguably the most prolific and dynamic creative artist in Hungarian literature today. Typically his energy and drive have repeatedly proved able to bring up to date and breathe new life into poetic genres that were forgotten and believed dead. On this occasion, Térey has taken an outing to the area of the middle-class drawing-room or “French-window” domestic comedy—and specifically to Királyhágó Square in Buda. This classical, quintessentially Buda square is the location for ‘The White Box’, a thriving first-class coffee-house and restaurant run by Gyo˝zo˝ (“Victor”), who is in this mid thirties. There, one particular February afternoon—apart from the owner and the waiters— are gathered an old friend of Gyo˝zo˝’s (or rather, he was a friend a long time ago) by the name of Kálmán Donner, a surgeon in the Accident & Emergency Department of the János Hospital, who happens to be in the midst of a divorce from his wife, Alma, a pushy lawyer, who has found out about an affair that he had with opera singer Delphine, with whom Gyo˝zo˝ too has a fleeting acquaintance. And so it goes on: everyone in ‘The White Box’ has something to say about the others. The superficially gossipy but, deeper-down, increasingly tense exchanges with each other carry on right through to closing time. The protagonists, lifting off from everyday language, speak in the tropes of ancient Greek tragedies, and thus a productive contrast arises between subject and register. In the play reference is made to a gale on 20 August (one of the dramatic climaxes comes when everybody recalls their experiences that day); to the autumn disturbances; and to what is referred to as “the moral crisis”. Térey does not allow topicality, the present, to become empty journalistic phraseology. One could say that as the complex structure of the antagonisms between the protagonists takes shape inwardly, we are outwardly made aware of the Hungary of today and its cultural and political dividedness. Térey puts to the test one of Sándor Márai’s aphoristic pronouncements—“to live in Buda is a world-view“—and the outcome is a highly actable and, even on a read-through, a marvellous, enjoyably unfolding chamber piece—a term that is justified, given the play’s musical composition and use of leitmotifs. Staging it must be at least as difficult as settling the bill for the fare and talk that are got through during the entire evening in Gyo˝zo˝’s restaurant. The play was a worthy 2007 winner of the Aegon Prize for Outstanding Literary Achievement. It leaves one wondering where János Térey will go next.Jeremiah, or the Coldness of God: A Mystery Play in Eight Scenes
János Térey has produced a unique drama trilogy in recent years. The historical tragedy he penned jointly with András Papp, Casemates (Kazamaták, 2006), sought to illuminate the contradictions and the disparate truths associated with the 1956 Revolution by bringing to the stage the storming of the communist party’s headquarters and the lynchings on Budapest’s Köztársaság Square. In Table Music (Asztalizene, 2008) he embarked on an entirely different narrative style and topic: the owner of a Budapest luxury restaurant and his patrons are tasting of the heated political demonstrations that hit the Hungarian capital in fall 2006 in their own manner; namely, in the company of juicy steaks and juicy credit cards. Through the now faded genre of bourgeois theater, Térey breathed new life into conversational drama.
With Jeremiah, or the Coldness of God, Térey turns his focus to the near future. The emblematic hero of this mystery play is, no, not the biblical Jeremiah—but Jeremiah Nagy, member of the Hungarian Parliament. Nagy suffers his way through a particularly debilitating public transport strike in his hometown, Debrecen, Hungary’s historical “civic city.” The subway system is down. (Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, has 200,000 residents but, in reality, no subway.) From scene to scene, and from subway platform to subway platform, Jeremiah meets up with the key figures of his life: friends, relatives, lovers, enemies.
Térey is more familiar with Debrecen, which happens to be his own hometown, than this city dubbed the “Calvinist Rome” is with itself. And this is, by the way, one of Debrecen’s literary and urbanistic singularities. Debrecen is an ambitious and yet anxious city surrounded by that vast grassland wilderness known as the Puszta and by all the attendant, economic and social realities of the Puszta. Other Hungarian cities of comparable size—such as Győr, Pécs, and Szeged—are more in tune with their own possibilities, and are better at enjoying and exploiting the singularities of their urbanity, of their increasingly middle-class natures. The big city of an underdeveloped region, Debrecen is a peasant metropolis of sorts that navigates its way along a path not of its own choosing; it flees forward, as it were. And this accounts for why Debrecen’s road to middle-class-hood has been but a half-baked success: cultural capital is generally quick to leave town. Historical pride and historical frustration, a sense of mission and a nagging sense of depression—all this stems from a single stem in Debrecen.
The tense relationship between the ambitious citizen and his industrious community is ever an issue in Debrecen. Indeed, it is a religious-existential question, for the city is the bastion of the Hungarian Reformation; and in this sense, Jeremiah, or the Coldness of God is a singular combination of the author’s two previous dramas. The power politics of wounded pride contorts into impotence. And this, in conjunction with his city’s ambitious side, is what determines the personal trajectory of Jeremiah Nagy, who seems predestined
János Térey’s verse-novel, Protokoll, published in 2010, is a fine example of literature focused on public life. Its style and content – the juxtaposition of Classical poetic styles and the portrayal of contemporary problems – create tension and excitement, making Protokoll into one of the most important poetic achievements of recent years. The hero of the verse-novel is Ágoston Mátrai, the forty-somethingish protocol chief for the Hungarian foreign ministry, whose meticulous work relegates him to the background, which suits him, for he does not wish to call attention to himself. Th e book, which is divided into twenty-two chapters, presents Mátrai’s hopeless life to the reader in seemingly every way: the monotony of the robotic work at the ministry, the string of unsuccessful relationships with the opposite gender, as well as his chaotic family life. Th e introduction and presentation of Mátrai’s life reveals the unstable, contradictory and politics-saturated lives of Hungary’s upper-middle class. At the same time, the foreign ministry’s strict protocols that seek to demarcate everything come across through the lives of the various characters. Going to the theater or making love is similar to a dinner invitation from an ambassador, and therefore only the motions one goes through remain. Content becomes devoid of meaning. At fi rst, Ágoston Mátrai’s personal life empties out and the mainstays around it fall apart, but soon the pattern is repeated at his workplace as well. Th e central question in Protokoll – What can a person do about all the constructs that determine his life? – remains unanswered. Mátrai ends up becoming an ambassador in the Baltic states, but this does little to resolve his pent up frustrations caused by the underlying problems that linger on, just like the tension between the book’s classical style and its modern-day subject matter.Download contents in PDF!