Reading Mindfully: Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”

Reading Mindfully: Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”

Each month, we offer you a chance to read mindfully, to use literature to think about your perceptions and reactions to the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Please grab a friend or colleague to read, share and discuss – and send us your thoughts.

Franz Kafka's ink and paper illustration, titled "The Thinker."

Franz Kafka, The Thinker, 1913, [Public Domain] via

Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” was originally written in German and published in 1922. Kafka’s work attracted scant public attention during his lifetime, but “A Hunger Artist” became the title story for a collection of short stories published in 1924 just before his death. We have used this story in several Books@Work programs.

As you read “A Hunger Artist,” consider these questions:

  • What does the Hunger Artist want?
  • The Hunger Artist claims that he is “too old to take up a different profession.” What are some of the challenges and benefits of exploring new avenues throughout our lives?
  • In what ways do we overlook the hard work and skill of others? Do you ever feel neglected or misunderstood in your own efforts?

A Hunger Artist
by Franz Kafka, translated by Ian Johnston

In the last decades interest in hunger artists has declined considerably. Whereas in earlier days there was good money to be earned putting on major productions of this sort under one’s own management, nowadays that is totally impossible. Those were different times. Back then the hunger artist captured the attention of the entire city. From day to day while the fasting lasted, participation increased. Everyone wanted to see the hunger artist at least once a day. During the later days there were people with subscription tickets who sat all day in front of the small barred cage. And there were even viewing hours at night, their impact heightened by torchlight. Continue Reading 

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Spectators in the Arena at Arles, 1888, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Reading Mindfully: Wendell Berry’s Poetry
Reading Mindfully: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited”
Recognizing Others and Ourselves Through Literatur

Learn More About Our Programs or Read More on The Notebook:

Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen is the Director of Operations of Books@Work.

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.