Please join us this Friday, April 20, at Interdisciplinary Approaches to Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia (REECA) for a workshop session on:



Christa Wolf’s Early Socialist Realism of the Fifties




As perhaps the most famous author of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, better known as East Germany), Christa Wolf has been received in the West as a critic of real existing socialism since the late sixties. Beginning with Marcel Reich-Ranicki and culminating in the work of Dennis Tate, Wolf has been credited with setting GDR literature on a new path that integrated a modernist, autobiographical perspective with the social and political concerns of the contemporary post-War moment. Wolf’s poetological manifesto of 1968, entitled “Reading and Writing,” is considered highly influential on peers and younger colleagues who found little or no place in official culture, but created emphatically Socialist literature in alternative spaces.


Yet the fall of the Communist regime and especially the opening of the secret police archives brought new reckonings to Wolf: resurfacing evidence of her collaboration with government institutions, including the secret police, and explicit criticism of her peers’ cultural-political positions unleashed a firestorm of fury against so-called dissidents of East Germany and Wolf in particular.


The present paper draws on Wolf’s (previously uncollected) reviews and editorials of the fifties to establish a nuanced appraisal of her representation of and distance from the official party line on what precisely constitutes Socialist Realism. Mostly published in the journal of the official writers’ union where Wolf worked on the editorial staff, the texts show exasperation with new literature that featured too many stereotypically heroic or evil characters. At the same time, Wolf’s unbending belief in the pedagogical potential of literature as a means to speak to compatriots about the moral failings of the past and the need for solidarity in the present foreshadow the foundations of Wolf’s later vision of reform Socialist culture.


Author: Nicole Burgoyne, Lecturer in Humanities/Germanic Studies (University of Chicago)


Discussant: Colin Benert, Lecturer in Germanic Studies (University of Chicago)


April 20, 2018

12:30pm-1:50pm in Foster Hall, Room 103

University of Chicago


Light refreshments will be served. You are welcome to bring your lunch.


The paper is available on our website under the ‘Papers’ tab. Password: reeca18nb

For more information, visit our website:


Please contact me ( if you have any questions about this workshop or if you believe you may need assistance.