Poet, essayist, translator and laureate of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded the Order of the White Eagle, the oldest and highest honour in the Republic of Poland.
She was born on 2 July 1923 in Prowent, part of Kórnik Castle’s estate. She studied Polish literature and sociology at the Jagiellonian University, but quit her studies because of financial problems.
She debuted in 1945 in the Dziennik Polski daily newspaper. In 1952, she published her first volume of verse entitled ‘Dlatego żyjemy’ [‘That is what we are living for’] and joined the Polish Writers' Association. In 1953–66 she became head of the poetry department of Życie Literackie, a literary magazine, and from 1983 onwards she cooperated with Tygodnik Powszechny, a Catholic weekly magazine.
Starting in 1957, she wrote for the Paris-based Kultura. In 1975, she signed a memorial to the Sejm of the Polish People's Republic – the so-called Letter of 59 – against amendments to the Constitution and provisions about the steering role of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) and a permanent alliance with the Soviet Union. She was also the co-founder of the Academic Courses Society operating in 1978–81 whose objective was to break the state monopoly in education.
Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1996 as “a representative of a poetic outlook of unusual and unyielding purity and strength.” In their justification, the Nobel Academy wrote that ‘Wisława Szymborska's making of poems is the perfection of the word, of the exquisitely chiselled images – allegro ma non troppo, as one of her poems is called.’
She died on 1 February 2012 in Krakow. She was buried in the Rakowicki Cemetery in Krakow (quarter GD, row 10, tomb no. 10). In her last will, she established the Wisława Szymborska Foundation.