Sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new canon of outlawed East German writers is about to be published for the first time.
The former East Germany discredited dissenting writers
German literature is poised to welcome some 20 prodigal sons and daughters into its fold, under the aegis of a foundation dedicated to researching the causes and impact of the East German dictatorship.
German scholars Ines Geipel and Joachim Walther in 2001 began compiling an archive of work by oppressed East German writers, silenced by persecution.
"We wanted to give young people in particular an image of East Germany that goes beyond those ghastly nostalgia shows," said Geipel in an interview with German public broadcaster NDR.
Edeltraud Eckert, Radjo Monk, Heidemarie Härtl and Peter Voss might not be household names, but once their work is published by Edition Büchergilde within its "Silent Library" series that might finally change.
Penned while she was serving time in the women's Hoheneck prison for political activism, Eckert's poetry, collected in a volume entitled "Year Without Spring" is the first to hit the press. She died after a horrific accident in the prison workroom in 1955, aged just 25.
Over the next five years, Büchergilde will be publishing another 19 unknown writers whose talents were curbed by state socialism and who failed to reach a more sympathetic readership in the west.
"People were oppressed," said Walther in an interview with Der Spiegel. "They weren't allowed to write what they wanted. In many cases, their lives were ruined. The official canon needs to be reformed to reflect this part of history."
The former East Germany was notoriously ruthless with enemies of the state, including cultural subversives. Writers who dared criticize the oppressive regime were given short shrift -- barred, at the very least, from their chosen career, sent to jail and often dispatched to labor camps.
A host of high-profile authors from behind Germany's Iron Curtain were luckier, managing to package veiled criticism in work that the East Germany dictatorship was willing to tolerate. While writers including Christa Wolf, Anna Seghers, Heiner Müller and Stefan Heym found ways of co-existing within a system they saw as flawed, angrier, more outspoken voices were unceremoniously silenced.
Overlooked amid a backlash against many of East Germany's leading writers, accused of collaborating with the infamous Stasi secret service, the fate of the GDR's more extreme literary dissidents was largely ignored in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The "Silent Library" project was a painstaking undertaking. Geipel and Walther scoured diverse sources from Stasi archives (photo), the German Literature Archive and the Academy of Arts to regional literary magazines published during the communist era.
"We're both writers ourselves," Geipel told NDR. "We knew about East Germany's unofficial literary networks and how they worked."
Until now, these writers were not even footnotes in Germany's literary history. Now, albeit belatedly, they might just become bestsellers.