Ottó Tolnai studied Hungarian literature and philosophy in Novi Sad and Zagreb. He belonged to the ethnic Hungarian minority in the former Yugoslavia, where artists and intellectuals enjoyed more freedom of expression than was allowed their counterparts in Hungary. When in 1965 the avant-gardist review Új Symposion (‘New Symposion’) was founded, Tolnai was among its first contributors and he later became its editor-in-chief.
Novi Sad saw the birth of a literary movement of Hungarian poets, whose work was published in the ‘Books from Symposion’ series.
Public recognition did not come early for Tolnai, whose seemingly detached surrealism met with a sceptic response. In 1967, however, his second book of poems was awarded the Híd Prize, Yugoslavia’s highest honour for the literature of its Hungarian community. Post-Communist Hungary honoured him with the Attila József Prize in 1991. Many of Tolnai’s poems are about writing poems. He is a master of striking images, the more impressive because he evokes them with simple language and a sparing use of poetic devices.
Ottó Tolnai is an essayist and playwright as well as a poet. His plays have been performed in Hungary and abroad.
[Ottó Tolnai took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2001. This text was written on that occasion.]
Ottó Tolnai on Lyrikline