The Austrian writer Magdalena Schrefel was born in Korneuburg in 1984 and lives in Berlin. She studied European ethnology in Vienna and creative writing in Leipzig. Schrefel writes plays and prose. Her first collection of short stories, Brauchbare Menschen (Usable People) was published in 2022 and was awarded the Robert Walser Prize. Magdalena Schrefel’s prose reveals her gifts as a playwright. Her short stories are often structured as dialogues. A recurring theme in these twelve stories is the working world’s logic of exploitation. Schrefel’s stories tell of agricultural work, security work, sex work, digital work, and other forms of precarious employment in late capitalism. A central nexus is always the relationship between humans and machines—in the sense of entanglement and conformation: a sex worker’s new colleague is made of silicone; a meat processor handles state of the art killing machines in a meat-packing plant; and the trainees in an airport-security company must internalize the dictum that only compliant behavior makes them human. Schrefel paints a complex portrait of work and its individual and social significance, and in the final story in the collection, she expands this portrait into a reflection on writing as work. In the form of a fictional prize acceptance speech, the narrator grapples with the work of writing and shows that precarity also exists in the business of literature—although without diminishing the differences to other, less prestigious forms of precarious labor.
Brauchbare Menschen. Erzählungen. Suhrkamp 2022