The poet Ava (c. 1060 – 7 February 1127), also known as Frau Ava, Ava of Göttweig or Ava of Melk, was the first named female writer in any genre in the German language.
Ava was married and had two sons (Hartmann and Heinrich), who were probably clerics and helped their mother with her Middle High German religious poems, written in rhyming couplets; she refers to them at the end of her poem Das Jüngste Gericht ("The Last Judgment"), when one had already died.
In her poetry Ava used the Commentaries of Bede, Rabanus Maurus and Alcuin, Adso's Libellus de Antichristo (or his Latin source) and other works. The poems all centre on the theme of the growth, work and end of the Christian church. Like most composers of medieval biblical epics, she incorporates many ideas and motifs belonging to the so-called Medieval popular Bible, motifs which were popular in her time, and remain popular into ours - such as the ox and the ass at the crib - which are in fact not to be found in the Bible itself. She also adds content from the Apocrypha.
Ava the poet is usually identified as a certain Ava who after the death of her husband lived as an anchorite on the estate of Göttweig Abbey in Lower Austria, near Krems, or perhaps in Melk Abbey. Her death is listed in several necrologies, including that of Melk.
In Klein-Wien near Göttweig there is still today a tower called "Ava's Tower" (Avaturm), possibly the remains of the earlier nunnery. It seems fairly certain that the church of Saint Blaise in Klein-Wien stands on the site of the little chapel that was there at the time of Ava.
Until recently, Ava was usually referred to as "Frau Ava". The convention at least in English-speaking scholarship has changed since the appearance of the Rushing edition, which pointed out that the title "Frau" sounds patronising when male poets of the period are not called "Herr Wolfram" etc.
- "Johannes" ("John the Baptist")
- "Leben Jesu" ("Life of Jesus") with a final section on "Die 7 Gaben des Heiligen Geistes" ("The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit") (Vorau Manuscript)
- "Antichrist" (Vorau Manuscript)
- "Das Jüngste Gericht" ("The Last Judgment") (Vorau Manuscript)
Frau Ava Literature Prize
A biennial literary prize known as the Frau Ava Literaturpreis was instituted by local endeavour in 2001 and first awarded in 2003, open to works by already published female writers in German on spiritual, religious or political topics aimed at, or appealing to, a youth readership.
- Hoffmann, H. (ed.), 1830. Fundgruben für die Geschichte deutscher Sprache und Literatur. Breslau.
- Kartschoke, Dieter, 1994 (2nd edn). Geschichte der deutschen Literatur im frühen Mittelalter. Munich.
- Maurer, F., 1966. Die Dichtungen der Frau Ava. Tübingen.
- Mayer-Skumanz, Lena, 2002. Frau Ava. Wien:Dachs-Verlag. ISBN 3-85191-257-8
- Rushing, James, 2003. Ava's New Testament Narratives: When the Old Law Passed Away (Edition with English translations of "Johannes" and "Life of Jesus"). Kalamazoo.
- Schacks, Kurt (ed.), 1986. Die Dichtungen der Frau Ava. Graz:ADEVA. ISBN 3-201-01312-9