Miami professor Nicole Thesz publishes book on famous German novelist

Written by Mackenzie Rossero, CAS communications intern

photo of Nicole TheszAssociate professor of German Nicole Thesz first remembers encountering German author Günter Grass on her parents' bookshelf. That bookshelf held Grass' The Flounder and, eventually, it would also hold his Call of the Toad. Thesz bought that one for her father. He never read it, but she did.

These early moments with the renowned novelist and poet's work led Thesz to write her dissertation on him in the 1990s. She finished that in 2002, but it prompted her interest in something even larger — a book.

That book is The Communicative Event in the Works of Günter Grass: Stages of Speech, 1959-2015. It was published in January.

As most authors would tell you, book writing is a process. Thesz's process lasted a decade. She balanced many things at that time, but always came back to Grass.

"There was never a time that I wasn’t focused on it," Thesz explained. "You just have to explore a lot of avenues."

The first draft took the longest and was met by a tough review — but that review brought the entire project into focus. Thesz progressed from a draft with a broad theme, to a book focused on communication.

"The communication thing is nice because it made it much more meaningful for me to work on it. It's not just some author and their history — it's how we are in the world," said Thesz.

This new perspective helped Thesz realize that she was most passionate about the communication aspect of Grass and his work. She was then able to rewrite her book in just a year.

"At some point, you stop making so many compromises, and you start saying that [whatever you're doing] has to be something you're really excited about," said Thesz.

Her book is broken into the 4 major stages of Grass' life: the early stages, the phase where "he was very popular but weighed down by fame," the point when the Berlin Wall came down and Grass became disillusioned, and the period when he published his autobiography.

"[Grass] is probably in the top 5 German authors in the 20th century," said Thesz, thinking about his legacy and her book. "He's one of the lasting ones."

Before his death in 2015, Grass wrote numerous novels, often using animals as metaphors to talk about human society, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He is most well-known for writing The Tin Drum in 1959, which was transformed into an Academy Award-winning film in 1979.

And, Grass had a connection to Thesz that went beyond just having books on her father's shelf.

Thesz's parents are American, but she spent much of her childhood bouncing between Germany and France before coming to the United States in 1996. In the 1970s, Thesz's father worked as a translator in Hamburg. Grass also lived there at the time and happened to be looking for a translator. The two were set up and met in a bar.

"It turned out that they were both very strong characters and [Grass] didn't want to pay very much [for a translator] and my dad [later said], 'I make a living with this!'"

They didn't meet after that.

"It was a conversation that [Grass] probably didn’t remember, but I find it really funny that somehow in my backstory there was this great contact that petered out because of my dad's lack of interest," said Thesz, laughing.

"With her book finally published, Thesz is ready to move on from Günter Grass.

"I would have wished to have more time to look at the language and make sure that [it's correct], since I'm not a native [English] speaker, but I think it was healthy to let it go," said Thesz. "It was definitely time."

The book reviews have yet to come out, but Thesz doesn't mind the wait.

"I'm not going to look at [the reviews] when they come out. I mean, I will eventually, but they're like teaching evaluations," explains Thesz. "You cringe and get butterflies in your stomach and just hope nobody hated it. But, at some point, you know you have to face it. I haven't really looked in [the book] much for fear of finding typos."

Her new interest is eco-criticism, and, at some point, she also hopes to write a young adult novel inspired by her son's experience in summer camp.

Thesz attended veterinary school in Germany and has an MA in Comparative Literature and a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures. Her book is available for purchase online.