Ismail Kadare (b. 1936) is at present the only Albanian writer to enjoy a broad international reputation. His talents both as a poet and as a prose writer have lost none of their innovative force over the last three decades. Born and raised in the museum-city of Gjirokastra, Kadare studied in the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and subsequently at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow until 1960 when relations between Albania and the Soviet Union soured. He had begun his literary career in the 1950s as a poet with verse collections such as the modest Frymëzimet djaloshare, Tirana 1954 (Youthful inspiration) and Ëndërrimet, Tirana 1957 (Dreams) which gave proof not only of his 'youthful inspiration' but also of talent and poetic originality. His influential Shekulli im, Tirana 1961 (My century), helped set the pace for renewal in Albanian verse. Përse mendohen këto male, Tirana 1964 (What are these mountains thinking about), is one of the clearest expressions of Albanian self-image under the gruesome years of the Hoxha dictatorship. Kadare’s poetry was less bombastic than previous verse and gained direct access to the hearts of the readers who saw in him the spirit of the times and who appreciated the diversity of his themes. He soon became widely admired among the youth of Albania for his verse. With candidness and sincerity, Kadare contributed in particular to the evolution of love lyrics, a genre traditionally neglected in Albanian literature.
In the sixties, Kadare turned his creative energies increasingly to prose, of which he soon became the undisputed master and by far the most popular writer of the whole of Albanian literature. He was thus the most prominent representative of Albanian literature under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha and, at the same time, its most talented adversary. His works were extremely influential throughout the seventies and eighties and, for many readers, he was the only ray of hope in the cold, grey prison that was communist Albania.
At the end of October 1990, a mere two months before the final collapse of the dictatorship, Ismail Kadare left Tirana and applied for political asylum in France, a move which, for the first time, gave him an opportunity to exercise his profession with complete freedom. His years of Parisian exile have been productive and have accorded him further success and recognition, both as a writer in Albanian and in French. He has published his collected works in ten thick volumes, each in an Albanian-language and a French-language edition, and has been honoured with membership in the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.