Clara Györgyey: Writer and translator who specialised in the theatre
Thursday 25 February 2010
The 1956 Hungarian emigration to the West produced a number of eminent scientists and a few talented writers and translators. Among them was Clara Györgyey, a young woman with a passion for the theatre and an interest in organising literary activities, a very hard task indeed when dealing with such quarrelsome and self-centred customers as writers.
Born Klára Takács in 1933 in Budapest, Hungary, Clara came from a middle-class family. While studying at the Academy of Foreign Trade, she spent a summer vacation on work practice in the countryside and visited a labour camp where Jehovah's Witnesses were interned who had refused to do military service. Though not particularly politically minded, Clara smuggled a letter to an inmate and was in consequence interned for herself for six months.
In 1956, after the Soviets suppressed the Hungarian revolution, Clara escaped Hungary and won a scholarship to Yale University to study English literature, graduating in 1959. While there, she met her future husband, Ferenc Györgyey, an ex-prisoner of the notorious Communist labour camp of Recsk. They both became attached to the university for the rest of their lives, living in a rambling house in nearby Orange, Connecticut. In 1990 Clara became deputy director of the Program for Humanities in Medicine at Yale, also directing plays in the Yale University Theatre.
As a translator her main interest was the theatre and she produced good translations of István Örkény's Macskajáték (Catsplay, 1976) and Tóték (The Toth Family, 1982), as well as a play by the writer-politician and former President of the Hungarian Republic, Árpád Göncz. Mirror to the Cage (1993) was a collection of Hungarian writers in English translation, and she also wrote a monograph on the Hungarian expatriate playwright Ferenc Molnár (1980); this was translated in 2001 into Hungarian. Her articles were published in a number of American reviews, including Critique magazine and World Literature Today, as well as the Chicago-based Hungarian-language monthly, Szivárvány. After the change of regime in 1990 she regularly visited her native country, bringing back colourful reports of the theatrical scene in Budapest.
Clara Györgyey's organisational talents were proven in the 1970s when she became President for the American branch of the PEN Club in Exile. She fulfilled this duty for many years to the general satisfaction of her fellow-writers of different nationalities. She also attended international PEN Congresses regularly and I can recall such an occasion in Hamburg, soon after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, when apart from diverse literary subjects we discussed the efficacy of iodine tablets then distributed against radiation. Both for her work in the PEN Club and her translations she received awards such as the Award of the National Endowment for the Arts (1986) and the Ady Medal of the Hungarian PEN Club (1992). In 1993 she was decorated with the Cross of the Hungarian Republic.
Clara was a loyal friend, always full of energy and news from all parts of the world. Whether we met in Vienna or London, or in her house in Orange, I enjoyed her vivacious talk, her enthusiasm for the theatre and unceasing interest in Hungarian literature. Lately she had been complaining about her ill-health and of the health problems of her husband, several years her senior; still, it was a shock when last autumn she was hospitalised with severe appendicitis, a condition that eventually led to her death.
Klara Takács, writer and translator: born Budapest 23 May 1933; married Ferenc Györgyey (two daughters); died Wallingford, Connecticut 11 January 2010.
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