Karlheinz Braun Celebrates His Eightieth Birthday

Braun, Karlheinz (2)_ Photo LINKS_ neu 2_300Initiator and cofounder of the Verlag der Autoren

Karlheinz Braun was born in Frankfurt am Main on July 4, 1932. In 1952 he enrolled in at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, where he studied literature and philosophy, later continuing his studies in Paris during semesters abroad. From 1953 to 1959 he headed the Frankfurt student theater “neue bühne,” where he also gained experience as a theater director. In 1959, after completing his doctorate on the theory of the novel, he was appointed director of the theater department at Suhrkamp under managing director Siegfried Unseld. In his ten years with Suhrkamp, the young literary agent Braun made the publishing house into an “incubator of new German drama” (DER SPIEGEL 22/1969)and, through the acquisition of the associated stage rights, the country’s most important publisher of theatrical works.

Following the failed attempt at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1968 to institute an “editorial charter” allowing for a greater degree of collective decision-making at Suhrkamp and the formulation of the firm’s publication program by its employees—to which Unseld responded, “One can only decide on that which one owns”—Karlheinz Braun left Suhrkamp in the spring of 1969. In April of the same year he and the dramaturg Wolfgang Wien, who died this year, established the Verlag der Autoren, the first German publishing house to be run on a collective basis. The first article of its charter stated “The Verlag der Autoren is collectively owned by all its members, its authors, managing editors and employees.” The official inaugural meeting took place on May 18, 1969. It was also Karlheinz Braun who brought Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his plays to the VdA. Already on July 19, 1969 a contract was agreed for the publication of Katzelmacher, Preparadise Sorry Now, Anarchy in Bavaria und The Coffee House. The VdA went on to publish a further 12 of Fassbinder’s works and to market the rights to many of his film scripts and their current stage adaptations.

From 1961 to 1969 Karlheinz Braun held the post of Secretary of the German Academy of the Performing Arts and, together with the theater critic Peter Iden, directed the first five “experimenta” theater festivals in Frankfurt. The festival was designed as a platform for experimental plays and aesthetic-political debates that would provide a counterweight to the Berlin Theater Festival, which had been established in 1963. In 1966, “experimenta 1” hosted the premiere of Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience. Rainer Werner Fassbinder was originally scheduled to participate in the festival in 1969, but, in the event, it was not until 1971 that he was actually represented there by The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Karlheinz Braun was active at the VdA as its executive director and delegate until 2003—a period only interrupted by a three-year stint as director of the Schauspiel Frankfurt theater from 1976 to 1979. In 1995 he was awarded the Hessian Culture Prize for his services to the arts and in 2007 he received the Plaque of Honor of the City of Frankfurt am Main.

Photo right: © 2009 Verlag der Autoren
Photo left: © 2009 Verlag der Autoren