Erika Johnson Debeljak: I knew that books have great power

Photo: Saša Kovačič

Today, the writer, essayist, translator Erika Johnson Debeljak will be a guest of the city library in Chemnitz, Germany, where she is the guest of the Frankfurt Book Fair. The American-Slovenian author will be presenting her novel Virgin Wife Widow Whore, translated into German as Verliebt, verheiratet, verwitwet, verhurt, at the local library. The book, published this year by Verlagshaus Römerweg, will be presented in conversation with Slovenian publicist Dražen Dragojević, and the German translation will be read by actress Alida Bohnen from the Chemnitz theatre ensemble.


Slovenia is this year’s guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair and Erica Johnson Debeljak is one of the authors representing the country. As part of the fair, readings are also being held in Chemnitz, which will be the European Capital of Culture in 2025, along with Nova Gorica and Gorizia. The book, a memoir and writings about her husband’s sudden death, mourning and women’s emerging independence, has been well received in Slovenia. She writes of moving memories and personal experiences, which she continually interweaves with insightful anthropological analysis of widows from different historical periods and cultures, and notes how little the role of the widow has really changed throughout history. In 2021, the novel was named Book of the Year at the Ljubljana Book Fair.


The author was born in 1961 in San Francisco, California, moved to New York in 1981, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in French, and in 1993 moved to Slovenia, where she married the poet Aleš Debeljak. Her literary debut, Tujka v hiši domačinov (Foreigner in the House of Natives), was published in 1999, followed by Srečko Kosovel: Pesnik in jaz (Srečko Kosovel: The Poet and Me, 2004), the short story collection Tako si moj (You are so mine, 2007), the memoir Prepovedani kruh (Forbidden Bread, 2009) and Prepovedani kruh (Forbidden Bread, 2010), and the novels Anfita Cona (Anfita Cona, 2012) and The Bicycle Factory (The Bicycle Factory, 2015). She lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia.