István Csukás, Kossuth Prize-winning poet, writer and ‘Artist of the Nation,’ died at the age of 83. Újszínház announced the sad news in a Facebook post. The legendary children’s book author Csukás created some of the favorite stories and animated television shows of Hungarian children, such as classics like Süsü, a sárkány (Süsü, the dragon); Pom Pom meséi (Pom Pom’s Stories); Mirr-Murr, a kandúr (Mirr-murr, the tom-cat); A nagy hohoho-horgász (The Great Ang-ang-ang-angler) and countless more.
Csukás was born in Kisújszállás on April 2, 1936. He often mentioned that he was born the same day as another great story-teller, Hans Christian Andersen, but 131 years later. His father owned a smithy, and the whole village would often gather in its courtyard. He said that “it was always full of people —mainly men, but women and grandmothers as well — who were good at telling stories, anecdotes, and so-called “living stories.” These were always magical, and I was always amazed by these ‘living’ words.” Although he grew up in poverty, he never felt the real weight of it, as they always had food on the table and he always remembered his childhood as “happy days.”
Although he is known as the most popular storyteller and children’s book author, as generations grew up with his stories, he originally wanted to be a musician, specifically a violinist. Later, he started writing poems and only began to deal with children’s literature after 1957. He did not want to leave the country after the 1956 Revolution, as he felt “…there was no place but Hungary where I could be a poet.” However, he was a member of the Young Artists’ Club (Fiatal Művészek Klubja), which at the time was a symbol of resistance with members like visual artists, actors, writers, poets, and musicians. That is when, leaning on the inspiration of István Kormos, “the incredible poet, writer, and (not least) friend, I started writing for children.”
The original puppet figures of Süsü, the Dragon puppet series: Sárkányfűárus, the Királyfi and Süsü. The puppets and the scenery were designed by Sándor Lévai, and the script was written by István Csukás. (photo: MTVA/Zih Zsolt)
In 2017, Hungary Today had the opportunity to interview the legendary creator of children’s books, poems, films, and tv shows in his home. Csukás talked about his life, his work, and the future of art aimed for children in his country.
Asked about his favorite stories, he said from his own works, he would have to pick Pom Pom’s Stories (Pom Pom meséi). “One reason for this is that, in contrast to my earlier stories, the main character here is a little girl named Picur (Dinky), who dreams up all sorts of fantastical things on her way to school. The other reason is that Pom Pom is chiefly about imaginary creatures, not humans or animals. And the stories that take place are complemented by Ferenc Sajdik’s incredible drawings. It was interesting that the abstract nature of the stories caused less difficulties for children than it did for members of the older generation. Other than this, I really love the books of István Kormos and Gyula Krúdy, but the biggest influences on me from my childhood, were Sándor Petőfi and Sándor Weöres.”
photo: Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today
In recognition of his work, he was awarded the Attila József Prize in 1977 and 1987, the Andersen Prize in 1984, the Book of the Year in 1987, and the Tibor Déry Prize in 1989 and 1995. In 1996, he was awarded the Life Art Award of the National Association of Hungarian Creative Artists, and in 1999 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize for “high quality poetry, direct literary works which teach love for humanity and nature and renewal of contemporary children’s literature.” In 2010, he was awarded a Life Award at the Children’s Book of the Year competition. In 2011, he became an Honorary Citizen of Budapest and received the Prima Primissima Prize. In 2015, he became a permanent member of the Hungarian Writers’ Association.
Pom-Pom statue in Kisújszállás (photo: MTI/Mészáros János)
In 2016, he received the Hungarian Order of Merit. In 2016, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, a statue of his favorite character, Pom Pom, was inaugurated in Kisújszállás.
Süsü, the dragon stamps, released by Magyar Posta, with Gyula Bodrogi, the voice of the legendary puppet figure. (photo: MTI/Koszticsák Szilárd)
In 2016, he was awarded the Hungarian Heritage Award, while in 2017, he was awarded the title of Artist of the Nation. In 2019, Magyar Posta published a special stamp block with his popular character Süsü, the dragon, hero of the puppet series based on Csukás’ stories. The stamp was designed by graphic artist István Weisenburger and sold 60,000 copies.