Ellen Hinsey

Ellen Hinsey is a European/American author and independent researcher. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she has lived, traveled, researched and taught in Europe, based mostly in Paris. Her work is concerned with literature, history, philosophy and democracy. 

She is the author of eight books of essays, dialogue, poetry and literary translation.


Mastering the Past: Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism
(Telos Press, March 2017)

For more than three decades Hinsey has worked at the crossroads of history, literature and politics. Her most recent book of essays, Mastering the Past: Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe and the Rise of Illiberalism is a collection of eyewitness reports on the rise of European illiberalism and the struggle for democracy. The volume includes analyses of the 2012 Russian presidential elections and crackdown on civil society, the impact of Viktor Orbán's supermajority and constitution-making in Hungary and the rise of populism in Poland. A selection of these essays originally appeared in The New England Review, where Hinsey is International Correspondent. Selected essays were nominated in 2012 and 2013 for Pushcart Prizes.


Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova

Concurrent with her essays, Hinsey has initiated dialogical projects on memory, ethics and totalitarianism. Magnetic North: Conversations with Tomas Venclova is a book in the tradition of such works as Conversations with Czeslaw Miłosz, My Century by Aleksander Wat and Conversations with Joseph Brodsky. In Magnetic North, Hinsey interviews the Lithuanian author Tomas Venclova about European politics, his life and ethics under totalitarianism, and his relationships with writers such as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak and Czeslaw Miłosz. Also explored are Venclova's work as a dissident and his involvement as a founding member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Committee, his 1977 forced exile from the USSR and his prize-winning poetry. 

English edition, University of Rochester Press, 2017
German edition, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2017
Lithuanian edition, Apostrofa, Sept 2017
Ukrainian edition, Dukh i lit era, 2018
Polish edition, Zeszyty Literackie, 2018

Ellen Hinsey is also the editor and co-translator of The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova, which appeared with Bloodaxe Books (2008).


The Illegal Age (2018 UK Poetry Book Society Autumn Choice and National Poetry Series Finalist) - Arc Publications, August 2018.

Based on firsthand fieldwork and research, The Illegal Age, is an investigation into the twentieth-century's legacy of totalitarianism and the rise of political illegality. The poetic sequence explores the enduring potential for human beings to set neighbour against neighbour and commit final acts of violence. The Illegal Age reflects Hannah Arendt’s warning that "the first essential step on the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man". The book chronicles and warns of the arrival of a new, disquietingly reality now unfolding. Recipient of the 2018 UK Poetry Book Society Autumn “Choice”.

Update on the Descent (2017, 2009) 

Hinsey's Update on the Descent, was a 2007 finalist for the National Poetry Series. It was published in 2009 by Notre Dame University Press and Bloodaxe Books (2009). In February 2002, and for a period of three years, she traveled to the Netherlands to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague to listen to witness sessions. Update on the Descent is a consideration of the vita activa, or the ethical and civic life. Composed over a seven-year period, Update on the Descent explores the extremes of the human condition, and meditates on tyranny, violence, civil division, as well as the possibility of reconciliation. Selections from the work have appeared in French, Italian, German, Polish, Lithuanian, Danish, Serbian and Arabic translation.

The German edition of Update on the DescentDes Menchen Element, appeared with Matthes & Seitz Verlag, March 2017.

The White Fire of Time was published in 2002 (US edition/Wesleyan University Press - UK edition/Bloodaxe Books, 2003). The volume was written following a tragedy in the author's family and is part of a multi-volume work on poetry and ethics. The White Fire of Time is a book-length consideration of the vita contemplativa. It explores the world, the role of language in the tradition of mystical experience, and the impact of grief on the spiritual journey. The White Fire of Time was the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award.

Cities of Memory (Yale University Press) received the prestigious Yale University Series Award. The book was written out of first-hand experiences in Berlin on the weekend of November 9, 1989 and during the Velvet Revolution in Prague in December of that same year. The collection investigates events that informed our historical conscience at the end of the twentieth century. Sequences portray Freud's departure from Vienna following the rise of Nazism, the morning of the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the effects of the aftermath of communism in Eastern Europe, among other subjects.

Hinsey's works-in-progress include a study on the dangers of new forms of authoritarianism, V. Diary (a novel), and Lyriques Mystiques (Poetry).

Hinsey's work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Die Welt, Der Tagesspiegel, Schreibheft,  Akzente, The Irish Times, The Paris Review, The New England Review, The Southern Review, Poetry, The Missouri Review, Agni Review, The Southwest Review, Poetry Review (UK), and Poetry Ireland, among many others.

Photographic Research on Democracy and civic Society

Beginning in 1989 and continuing to the present, Hinsey has been carrying out research and photographic documentation on democratic consolidation and reconstruction in Central and Eastern Europe. Selections from the photographic work have been featured in publications such as Berlin Journal and exhibited in Paris.


Hinsey has also translated The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations, by Zhu Xiao-Mei, the memoir of a Chinese pianist growing up under the Cultural Revolution (2012). Her other translations include contemporary French memoir (Variations Sauvages, Hélène Grimaud) and fiction (Je l'aimais, Anna Gavalda) and were published in 2005 and 2006 with Riverhead/Penguin Books.


Hinsey has received a number of awards, including a 2015 DAAD Berlin Künstlerprogramm fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award, a Union League Civic/Arts Poetry Prize from Poetry and a Stover Prize from The Southwest Review. She is also a former Berlin Prize fellow of the American Academy in Berlin.

Professional appearances

Hinsey has been an invited author and guest lecturer at many international festivals, universities and other venues including: The New School (New York); Poetry International (Royal Festival Hall), Poetry Library (Royal Festival Hall, The British Library (With Tomas Venclova), The University of London, The London Book Fair, Kings Lynn Poetry Festival, The Wordsworth Trust-Dove Cottage, the BBC; Poetry Now Festival, Cuirt International Festival of Literature, The Dublin Festival of Literature, The Sligo Poetry Festival, The Arts Show/RTE (Ireland); The Sorbonne, The Pompidou Center, The Ecole Normale Supérieure, The Festival Franco-Anglais de Poesie, La Maison de la Poésie, TV5 (Paris); Giornata Mondiale della Poesia (Verona); The Leipzig Book Fair, The University of Göttingen, The Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, the International Literaturfestival Berlin, the University of Bonn, The University of Essen, the University of Bayreuth, The University of Łódź, The Academy of Arts and Sciences, Warsaw and The Arsenal Book Festival (Kiev) among others.


For many years Hinsey taught at the French graduate school, The Ecole Polytechnique, and Skidmore College's Paris Program. She is currently an independent author and the International Correspondent for The New England Review.