In-depth | Literature

Thank you, fellow witch!

By - 29.03.2023

Female authors share their appreciation for Dubravka Ugrešić upon her passing.

It was the afternoon of Friday, March 17 when things came to an end. Dubravka Ugrešić had died.

The news spread quickly. Media outlets and social media were flooded with memories and comments, recollections of personal encounters and conversations, and stories of how the author’s writing affected readers across the region and beyond.

Dubravka Ugrešić (born in Kutina, Croatia, 1949) was the author of numerous works of literature in which she artfully played with different genres and their limitations for which she was the recipient of countless regional and international awards. For her 1988 novel “Fording the Stream of Consciousness” she won the NIN Award, Yugoslavia’s (and now Serbia’s) most prestigious literary prize. The award was established in 1954 and Ugrešić was the first woman to receive the prize.

Her most well-known books include “In the Jaws of Life,” “The Culture of Lies,” “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg,” “Fox,” “The Ministry of Pain,” and many others, which have been translated from Croatian into many languages.

At the beginning of the 1990s she was a fierce opponent of the growing nationalism and became the target of attacks, because of which she was forced to flee Croatia. For the past 20 years or so, she lived in The Netherlands, from where we received news of her death.

K2.0 invited several of the region’s female authors to share their memories of Dubravka Ugrešić, recommend their favorite literary works written by her, share why they are grateful to her and honor her legacy.


Rumena Bužarovska, writer and translator

I met Dubravka in November 2022. She invited me to visit her in her Amsterdam-based home. I had done an online interview with her for the Druga Prikazna festival in Skopje in August, and I asked her if I could meet her when I was in Amsterdam — so she invited me. 

I don’t think she could imagine what that meant for me, and I tried not to behave like a groupie when I arrived.

I’m not sure she knew that, as the arch-witch, she left all these little witches behind who will strive to continue her legacy.
Rumena Bužarovska
Photo: Ads09 / Wikimedia Commons

Dubravka Ugrešić was our queen, and chatting with her about books and food was one of the highlights of my literary life. It was like I was sitting with the legend who inspired all of us women writers in the Yugosphere to be disobediently brave, to keep our minds open and speak just as openly, but also she gave us the example of masterful, courageous, and inventive writing that is world-class. 

I’m not sure she knew that, as the arch-witch, she left all these little witches behind who will strive to continue her legacy.


Olja Savičević Ivančević, writer

In the past few days, because it seemed like the best way to say goodbye to our author, I reread Dubravka Ugrešić’s last novel, “Fox,” and this book was a sort of goodbye to this world of ours. The last letter of a wise, experienced woman addressed to greedy and foolish ravens, but also to other “vixen” authors, especially to those girls who are just emerging.

In the past few days since her death, when people speak of Dubravka Ugrešić, they mostly talk of nationalists who forced her to flee Croatia. That’s an important story that we mustn’t forget so that we don’t forget that this can always easily happen, but I don’t appreciate how the exceptional life and achievements of an exceptional woman are reduced to a victim of idiots, because she never gave them the pleasure of becoming their victim — she didn’t allow it.

I would like to believe that, in some other world, she is collecting a patchwork of statements and media titles that came out after her death, having incredible fun along the way.
Olja Savičević Ivančević
Photo: H. Grgić

Although it seemed as if she was among the defeated, Dubravka won in the human and literary fields because she was a champion as a writer and as an upright person. That’s why she impresses other female authors who find a role model and their favorite literary ancestor in her.

In a country where brave female authors are no more than embittered witches, and literary heroines merely sufferers, she created unforgettable heroines: sharp, witty, silly, wise, entertaining, her own and, of course, our own. Dubravka paved the way, showing us that a person can write and live without having to compromise on anything. But it’s up to us to try and walk on that cleared path and keep clearing it. After everything she did, this should be an easier feat.

Ivica Buljan said that the day of Dubravka’s death should be declared a day of national mourning, as when Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža died. But Dubravka is re-experiencing everything she lived through while alive — how the public has reacted, especially officials, doesn’t honor her true importance. However, despite this lack of public acknowledgment, she left a huge heritage behind: Dubravka’s books and her enormous influence on writers will outlive this time, as they have long since gone beyond the region.

I would like to believe that, in some other world, she is collecting a patchwork of statements and media titles that came out after her death, having incredible fun along the way.


Lana Bastašić, writer

There was no one else. 

I told her this in her kitchen years ago. She was making me a cup of mint tea because I had a terrible stomach ache. People had told me she was tough, others called her difficult, but Dubravka was none of those things. She was simply a zero-nonsense type of woman coming from a place where women were expected to accept all the nonsense quietly. And here she was: the witch, the renegade, the difficult woman, taking care of me with her delicate hands and concerned eyes. 

“There is no one else,” I said. “No other role models, I mean. Before you I didn’t even know women could be writers. And I’m not just saying this because you’re making that tea.” 

She smiled. She never cared about the followers and vanity cults usually created around her less talented male colleagues. They were the geniuses, the prodigies, the voices of a generation. She was a writer. She never cared about talent, either. 

Thanks to Dubravka Ugrešić, now there could be more of us. More of us to rethink and rewrite the Balkans. More of us to reach out over the mansplaining narrator(s) of war.
Lana Bastašić
Photo: Radmila Vankoska

To her, literature was work, hard work, and this only gave it more value, more beauty. There were no muses whispering into her ears, cooking her meals, and ironing her shirts. She was on her own. “It’s about communication,” she told me. “It’s about reaching a few readers, maybe just two or three, doesn’t matter. You want them to love you. That’s all there is. Communication. Love.” She said this in a zero-nonsense way as well. 

This word that others would reject as sentimental, she offered as the only possible remedy for cynicism. It was a fact to be accepted, love as an antidote for that other kind of writing: the egotistical, the competitive, the patriarchal. It echoed the mad sentence from Mrs. Dalloway: Communication is key. Her literature was just like that simple white mug full of warm medicine: unassuming, smart, and effective. Something she could make and offer to those in need.

I was in a bookshop in Berlin when I heard that Dubravka passed away. My first reaction was anger: I almost called her on the phone to yell at her. How dare you do that? You can’t do that. There’s no one else. 

Then the grief washed over me, and the only thing that made sense was to look for her books on the shelves. I took them one by one – five, six, seven books, comforted by their weight in my arms. 

Soon I had to share it with other people at the bookshop because the load was becoming too heavy. “Read her,” I said. “Read her. Read her. There had been no one else!”

But thanks to Dubravka Ugrešić, now there could be more of us. More of us to rethink and rewrite the Balkans. More of us to reach out over the mansplaining narrator(s) of war. More of us to deconstruct the old myths. More of us to communicate. To love. To make each other a cup of tea. 

Read her.


Ana Vučković Denčić, journalist and writer

Although I never, sadly, met Dubravka Ugrešić in person, even though I had several opportunities, I always felt a sense of warmth and pleasantness surrounding her, as if we could get a coffee and enjoy a conversation. This pleasantness emanated from her face — smiling yet mysterious, Mona Lisa-like, as if an enigma was hiding behind it. And I believe this to be the case.

I know that’s so because, as I was reading her work, I had the impression that I could listen to her for a long, long time. In her literary work and expressions, she managed to put together so many different components, authentic and organic ones, which is why she was so well acknowledged, accepted, and loved — which we are witnessing now, as we say our goodbyes. But we knew all this before this moment, we were delighted at how she succeeded in being so many things at the same time: rebellious, lively, gentle, cerebral, witty, tenacious, energetic, playful.

She actively worked on disentangling our pains to us, thus helping herself to get a better sense of them — but it wasn’t a chronicle of sorts, just a top form of art.
Ana Vučković Denčić
Photo: Uroš Arsić

The last of her works I read was “Fox,” and it was there, in those orange hues, with that wise face, I could compare her to that fox, a mysterious and wondrous animal with a mission to discover the vortex of the story and its drifts. Until the very end, she was keenly interested in the Holy Grail of storytelling, to discover why people have the urge to tell stories, even when the text is scrambling, trying to get away from the author. The most exciting part of her art are those meta-vortices and references that open us up to unexpected perspectives, which at the very next moment seem exciting and completely logical at the same time.

Deeply touched by her books, I had the feeling that she has her way of offering wisdom and joy to me, without sounding patronizing. She worked to help us untangle all our pain and troubles, through which she was able to understand her own. In all this, she wasn’t making simple chronicles, but rather art of the highest level.

I will certainly sip gallons of coffee with Dubravka and her mysterious smile, thinking about her words, activism, sharpness, enjoying the vortices and the endless playfulness.


Rebel readers, a feminist collective of critics

Dubravka Ugrešić’s influence on the development of feminist art is multidimensional and literally historical. Apart from being the first woman to win the NIN Literary Award for the novel “Fording the Stream of Consciousness,” she was one of the first female writers in the region to use postmodern literary forms, collage techniques, and blurred boundaries between literary genres. She did this not for revisionist or relativizing purposes, but to show the full range of different female experiences. 

So her novel “Fox” finds itself simultaneously in the genres of the essay, the literary study, the memoir, biographical literature and the novel — but never in just one genre. Her literary work exemplifies the blurring of boundaries between genres and the radical democratization of literary form. 

She was one of the first female writers in the region to use the postmodern literary form, collage techniques, and blurred boundaries between literary genres.
Rebel readers
Photo: Bojan Kovačević

In her novel “In the Jaws of Life,” Dubravka Ugrešić plays with the genre of the romance novel and points to its relevance and subversive potential. By establishing a link between the romance novel and sophisticated literature, she undermined genre hierarchies, the established literary and non-literary hierarchies between “male” and “female” themes and between male and female points of view.

The novel also points to the connections between romance novels and so-called women’s prose, between postmodernism and women’s prose, between the creation of text and context, between Romance writing and centuries of oral tradition creatively shaped by communities of women.

We chose “Štefica Cvek” as the title for our regional feminist literature prize. In doing so, we want to honor her novel “In the Jaws of Life” [original title: “Štefica Cvek u raljama života”] which is a post-Yugoslav feminist classic, and also to ironize the concept of prizes, as our prize is atypical and strives for non-competition and the democratization of literature.

Dubravka particularly appreciated the idea of naming a prize after a literary figure, as she saw it as a sign that the prize is really about literature and literary worlds and not about the cult of the author.


Feature Image: Mladen Savković / K2.0.