Thomas Bernhard, who was born on February 9th 1931 in Heerlen/Holland and died on February 12th 1989 in Gmunden/Upper Austria, is probably the most famous and most influential Austrian author. The complete works of Thomas Bernhard, consisting of poetry, narratives, novels and plays, are widely recognized as one of the most important literary creations of the twentieth century. Bernhard not only continues to find a lasting positive response from his public, but his work remains at the centre of controversial debate in literary scientific circles.

He spent his childhood in the border-country of southern Bavaria and Salzburg. His formative influence during these years was his maternal grandfather, the author Johannes Freumbichler (1881-1949). In 1947 Thomas Bernhard cut short his education at a Salzburg grammar school to start an apprenticeship in a shop. At the age of 16 he became seriously ill with tuberculosis and was confronted with dying and death during various periods in clinics. His relationship with Hedwig Stavanicek, which developed during this period, lasted until her death in 1984.

Bernhard studied drama at the Salzburg Mozarteum from 1955 to 1957, and at this time had been taking singing lessons for a few years. After publishing several books of poetry, he made his literary breakthrough with the novel Frost in 1963. Many subsequent novels and narratives followed quickly: Amras (1964), Verstörung (1967), Das Kalkwerk (1972), Korrektur (1975), Der Untergeher (1983), Alte Meister (1985) and Auslöschung (1986).

From 1970 Bernhard advanced to becoming one of the most successful German-language dramatists; a total of eighteen plays were given their first performance. Between 1975 and 1982 he published five autobiographical narratives: Die Ursache (1975), Der Keller (1976), Der Atem (1978), Die Kälte (1981) and Ein Kind (1982). Public acclaim led to him being awarded, amongst others, the Georg-Büchner-Prize (1970), the Premio Mondello (1983) and the Prix Medicis (1988). The pugnacious author and his works increasingly became the centre of ferocious debate and arguments: for example the spectacular confiscation of his novel Holzfällen (1984) or the great stir caused by his last play Heldenplatz (1988).