Born December 2, 1952 in the Adriatic port city of Durrës, Albania, Visar Zhiti was the son of the stage actor and poet Hekuran Zhiti (1911-1989. The young Zhiti grew up in Lushnja, where he finished school in 1970. After his studies at a teacher training college in Shkodra, he began his teaching career in the northern mountain town of Kukës, demonstrating an early interest in verse, with a few publications published in literary magazines.
In 1973, as he prepared a collection, Rapsodia e jetës së trëdafilave (Rhapsody in the life of roses) for publication, the so-called Purge of the Liberals broke out in Tirana at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Communist Party. Zhiti’s father had earlier come into conflict with the authorities, and the young poet suddenly became one of the many political scapegoats selected in order to intimidate the intellectual community. The manuscript of his collection, which had been submitted to the editors of Naim Frashëri publishers, was now seen to contain grave ideological errors and was seen as blackening socialist reality. Zhiti and his works were denounced, and with no support by his fellow writers, he had nothing he could say to his interrogators to prove his innocence. He was arrested on November 8 th, 1979 in Kukës and forced into solitary confinement. Pen and paper were forbidden. In order to maintain his sanity, he composed and memorized over one hundred poems. Sentenced at a mock trail in April 1980 to thirteen years in prison, he was taken to Tirana jail and later transferred to a concentration camp in the isolated northern mountains that was similar to the Soviet gulags. Many of his fellow prisoners died of mistreatment and malnutrition or went mad.
He was released from prison in early 1987 and “permitted” by the Party to work in a brick factory in Lushnja, where he kept a low profile until the fall of Hoxha’s dictatorship. In 1991, he managed to get to Italy and worked in Milan until 1992. Through a scholarship provided by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Zhiti visted Germany in 1993 and went to the United States the following year.
Upon his return to Albania, we worked as a journalist and was appointed head of the publishing company which had planned to print his first book. He was later employed by the administrative services of the new Albanian parliament and in 1996 was himself elected to parliament. The somber realities of Albanian politics, however, soon let him to withdraw from politics. In 1997 he joined the Albanian foreign service and was appointed cultural attaché to the Albanian Embassy in Rome, where he remained until 1999.
His first book of poetry, Kujtesa e ajrit (The memory of the air) was published in Tirana in 1993, which included several prison poems. Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja (I cast a skull at your feet) was published the following year. This volume contained all 100 poems composed in prison between 1979 and 1987, which had survived only in his memory. Numerous volumes followed, and he is now recognized as one of the major Albanian poets of the 20 th century. He has also written numerous short stores, collected in two volumes, and translated works by Garcia Lorca and the Italian poet Mario Luzi into Albanian. His prison memoirs, Rrugët e ferrit: burgologji (The roads to hell: prisonology) was published in Tirana in 2001. In 1991 he was awarded the Italian “Leopardi d’oro” prize for poetry and in 1997 he received the prestigious “Ada Negri” prize.
BOOKS OF POETRY:
Kujtesa e ajrit (Tirana: lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1993); Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja (Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1994); Mbjellja e vetëtimave (Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit, 1994); Dyert e gjalla (Tirana: Eurorilindja, 1995); Kohë e vrarë në sy (Prishtina: Rilindja, 1997); Si shkohet në Kosovë (Tirana: Toena, 2000).
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS:
The Condemned Apple: Selected Poetry , trans. by Robert Elsie (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005).
See Green Integer title(s) by this author