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Helen Wolff Grants

Supporting politically persecuted women authors

Bild von Helen Wolff 1931 © Privat
Helen Wolff 1931 © Privat

Berlin, 6 June  2024 

The funding program for politically persecuted female authors, founded by descendants of Helen and Kurt Wolff, is entering its second round. In 2024, Helen Wolff Grants totalling 10,000 euros will be awarded. They will be given to female writers from Afghanistan, Gaza, Iran, Lebanon and Syria. In addition, so-called "Junior Grants" will be awarded to young Afghan women writers, which include financial support and participation in writing workshops.  

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The Helen Wolff Grants are intended to enable female authors who are politically persecuted or at risk of political persecution to continue writing despite the most difficult circumstances. In 2022 the first grants totalling 18,000 euros went to Afghan authors. This year's program will also include women writers from other crisis regions where it is not possible to work and publish freely.

The introduction of the "Junior Grants" is intended to specifically support Afghan women, whose rights were radically restricted after the Taliban came back to power in 2021, especially in the field of education. The exclusion from universities in particular means that there is a lack of spaces where women can learn to write and where women who write can continue to work. The "Junior Grants" are therefore accompanied by writing workshops led by an experienced Afghan author.

The descendants of Helen and Kurt Wolff's family award the grants in collaboration with the project Weiter Schreiben (“Writing On) based in Berlin, Germany. The selection process takes place within an international jury; unsolicited applications are not possible.

Background information:

The scholarship's namesake, Helen Wolff, was herself an aspiring author when she was forced into exile as a young woman in 1933 after the National Socialists came to power in Germany. Together with her husband Kurt Wolff, who was a well-known publisher in the 1910s and 1920s, she set up the Pantheon Books publishing house in New York in the 1940s and became an important transatlantic literary mediator. It was not until 2020 that her novel Background for Love was rediscovered and published by Weidle Verlag. After her arrival in the USA, Helen Wolff had always kept it a secret that she had worked as a writer in Europe. After the war, it seemed too complicated and risky for her to explain the circumstances of her writing and her failure. Helen and Kurt Wolff would not have survived their escape through Europe if they had not had the support of the networks of numerous people, including the married couple Emil and Emily Oprecht, who were themselves active in publishing.

Descendants of Kurt and Helen Wolff came together in 2022 to donate income from a family biography written by Alexander Wolff, Kurt Wolff's grandson, for today's generation of politically persecuted women writers. The income from Helen Wolff's novel, which includes a long biographical essay by her grandniece Marion Detjen, will also go to the grants. The family is convinced that the literary and publishing achievements of Helen and Kurt Wolff can only be properly honored if the recognition goes hand in hand with a commitment to women authors who are unable to work and publish freely today.

The Helen Wolff Grants are also intended to create a "bridge pillar" so that cultural connections can be built and maintained from here to the home countries; so that the knowledge of exile can become fruitful both here and there.

Bard College Berlin, which offers a scholarship program for students from war and crisis regions that Marion Detjen works for, has also created a "Helen Wolff Scholarship" for young forcibly displaced women writers. This year's first scholarship will go to a Palestinian-Ukrainian student from Gaza who will come to Germany on a student visa in August and will begin a four-year Bachelor's degree in the arts and humanities at Bard College Berlin.

Weiter Schreiben is a literature platform for authors from war and crisis zones run by the non-profit organisation WIR MACHEN DAS, based in Berlin, Germany.

Bard College Berlin is a university in Berlin that offers interdisciplinary bachelor programs in the humanities and social sciences, including a scholarship program for students from war and crisis zones.

Do you have questions about the Helen Wolff Grants? Contact us.

Patrick Kennedy 


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