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As an undergraduate, Menasse studied German studies, philosophy and political science in Vienna, Salzburg and Messina. In 1980 he completed his PhD thesis "Der Typus des Außenseiters im Literaturbetrieb. Am Beispiel Hermann Schürrer" ("The outsider phenotype within literature").
Between 1981 and 1988 Menasse worked as a junior lecturer at the Institute of Literature Theory at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He has been working as a freelance publicist, columnist and translator of novels from Portuguese into German ever since.
His first novel Sinnliche Gewissheit, published in 1988, is a semi-autobiographical tale of Austrians living in exile in Brazil. The magazine Literatur und Kritik published Menasse's first poem ("Kopfwehmut") in 1989. His later novels were Selige Zeiten, brüchige Welt (1991, translated into English as Wings of Stone ISBN 0-7145-4295-4), Schubumkehr (1995, Engl. Reverse Thrust) and Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle (2001). In 1990 Robert Menasse was the first writer to be awarded the Heimito von Doderer Prize. Since returning to Europe from Brazil, Menasse has mainly lived in the cities of Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam. He currently lives in Vienna and is married.
Menasse's language is at times playful and at times subtly sarcastic. Recurring themes in his novels are loneliness and alienation within human relationships and as a result of his character's lives' circumstances. In his work Menasse often criticises the latent form of antisemitism still widespread in the German-speaking world today.
He has also written some essays on Austria (especially on Austrian identity and history; "Land ohne Eigenschaften" (1992) a.o.). Most recently, he wrote about the future of Europe and the European Union, criticizing tendencies of re-nationalization (especially in Germany, but also elswehere) and anti-European integration movements, which are a reaction to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and its aftermath (Euro crisis) ("Der europäische Landbote", 2012). Since 2011 Menasse has been curating a writer in residence programme in one world foundation in Sri Lanka.
- Heimito von Doderer Prize 1990
- Alexander Sacher Masoch Prize 1994
- Österreichischer Staatspreis für Kulturpublizistik 1998
- Joseph Breitbach Prize 2002
- Friedrich Hölderlin Prize 2002
- Lion Feuchtwanger Prize 2002
- Marie Luise Kaschnitz Prize 2002
- Erich Fried Prize 2003
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