Ilija Jovanović was born in Rumska, Serbia in 1950 and grew up in a Romani settlement. While still a child, he demonstrated a passion for literature. He attended primary and secondary school, worked as a farm labourer and moved to Vienna in 1971. The plan to return home after a few years could not be realised – as was the case for many other migrants. His three children grew up with their grandparents in Serbia and did not join him in Vienna, Austria until they were teenagers. In 1975 one of his poems won a competition at a Serbo-Croatian private school in Vienna, which motivated him to continue writing. He began to compose poetry in Serbo-Croatian, German and, later, Romanes, in the Gurbet variant.
Ilija Jovanović’s poems first appeared in the anthology Neue österreichische Lyrik – und kein Wort Deutsch [New Austrian poetry – and not a word in German] (1990), edited by Gerald Nitsche. There followed his own collections of poetry titled Bündel / Budžo: [Bundle] (2000), Vom Wegrand / Dromese rigatar [From the wayside] (2006) and Mein Nest in deinem Haar / Muro kujbo ande ćire bal (2011; English translation: Muro kujbo ande ćire bal / My nest in your hair, 2017).
Ilija Jovanović did not live to see the publication of his last volume of poetry. He knew, however, that Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek had agreed to write an epilogue and let it be known how pleased and honoured he was about the choice.
Ilija Jovanović’s poems were translated by Melitta Depner into English, Italian, Romanian and – not yet published – French. In addition, some of his poems have been set to music, including by Koloman Polak (‘Budžo, das Bündel’ in 2002), Ferry Janoska (‘Kunaći đili’, 2006) and, most recently, Friedrich Cerha (2016). Two film portraits of the poet appeared in 2007.
As chairman of the ‘Romano Centro’ association in Vienna for several years, he was involved in particular in the field of culture and learning assistance. A Viennese park was named after him in 2016. Jovanović was awarded the Theodor Körner Prize in 1999 and the Exil Lyrik Prize in 2010. He died in Vienna on 25 November 2010.
Jovanović, Ilija. 1990. »Budjo« (and other poems). In: Gerald Nitsche (ed.): Österreichische Lyrik und kein Wort Deutsch. Innsbruck: Haymon, pp. 18–23.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2000. Bündel / Budžo. Landeck/Tirol: EYE Literaturverlag.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2006. Vom Wegrand / Dromese rigatar. Klagenfurt: Drava. ISBN: 978-3-85435-483-3.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2010. News from the Other World. Poems in Romani. Translator: Melitta Depner. London: Francis Boutle Publishers. ISBN: 1903427541.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2011. Mein Nest in deinem Haar / Muro kujbo ande ćire bal. Mit einem Nachwort von Elfriede Jelinek. Klagenfurt: Drava. ISBN: 978-3-85435-645-5.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2012. Il mio nido nei tuoi capelli. Raccolta di poesie in romaní (gurbeto). Traduzione italiana di Melitta Depner. Prefazione di Cécile Kovacshazy. Postfazione di Elfriede Jelinek. Premio Nobel per la letteratura 2004. Patti: Casa Editrice Kimerik.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2017a. Cuibul meu în părul tău. Colecţie de poezii în limba romani (gurbetă). Traducerea în limba română: Melitta Depner. Cuvânt înainte: Cécile Kovacshazy. Berlin: Epubli.
Jovanović, Ilija. 2017b. Muro kujbo ande ćire bal / My nest in your hair. Poems in Gurbet and English, translation by Melitta Depner. Berlin: Epubli.
Cerha, Friedrich. . Liederzyklus nach Texten von Ilija Jovanović für Bariton und Klavier = Song cycle after texts by Ilija Jovanović for baritone and piano. Wien: Doblinger. [score; twelve poems (in German) from: Jovanović, Ilija. 2011. Mein Nest in deinem Haar / Muro kujbo ande ćire bal. Klagenfurt: Drava.]
Eder-Jordan, Beate. 2006. Ilija Jovanović – ein österreichischer Roma-Autor aus dem ehemaligen Jugoslawien. In: Ilija Jovanović: Vom Wegrand / Dromese rigatar. Klagenfurt: Drava, pp. 88–95.
Heinschink, Mozes und Peziza Cech. 2011. Ilija Jovanović (1950–2010) – O Ilija gêlo-tar amendar. In: Romano Centro 69 (März 2011), pp. 4–9.
Vom Wegrand in den Fluß. 2007. Filmisches Porträt des Dichters Ilija Jovanović. Erstellt von Florian Gehrer, Rosina Hecher, Barbara Koch, Sarah Prucha, Florian Sabary und Julia Siat, Österreich. (Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDSiLmE2WEMl, last accessed 20 October 2018).
Nebenan: Ilija Jovanovic. 2007. Regie Radovan Grahovac, Wien/Österreich. https://www.okto.tv/de/oktothek/episode/3021 (last accessed 20 October 2018).