Dušan was born in Banja Luka, Bosnia, on the 6th April 1936, into a well-known and respected family. His father, Zlatko, was a public prosecutor, and his mother, Radojka, a teacher. His brother, Milan, was born in 1938.
In 1941 the war reached Banja Luka. The family was evicted from their home and Dušan’s father was taken away to the Osnabrück prison camp in Germany. Radojka and her two sons were first taken to the Ustasha camp in Slavonska Požega and after that transported in wagons, via Belgrade, to Požarevac in Serbia, where they remained until the end of the war. In Požarevac, Dušan started school and completed two years. After the liberation in 1945, most of the family returned to Banja Luka, where they were reunited.
Dušan continued his education and in 1947, he enrolled into the famous Banja Luka High School, Realka, founded in 1895. He was sociable and had many friends, including Predrag Mitraković, Nikola Koljević, Ostoja Đurić, Rade Mihaljčić, Blaža Dragojević and others.
Dušan enjoyed participating in various school activities, including acting, as well as having an interest in languages and music. He had private lessons in English, piano and especially enjoyed the accordion, which he played, along with his friend Nikola Koljević at dance afternoons held at the local gym.
After finishing high school in 1955, Dušan went to Belgrade to study. He enrolled at the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of World Literature. In the same year at university were his friends from Banja Luka, Nikola Koljević and Ostoja Đurić, and new friends Bogdan A. Popović and Predrag Protić, who later became best man at his wedding.
His friendship with Bogdan led him to visit the residence for Jewish students in Kosmajska street. In 1957, to the same home, arrived Mazalta (Tilda) Finci from Sarajevo, who began to study dentistry but after the first semester, she switched to the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Foreign Languages, to study English and Italian. In order to catch up with the missed first semester, Tilda needed some help, which Dušan provided. From these daily lessons, love blossomed, which eventually led to marriage.
After graduating in 1959, Dušan went to Travnik to serve his military service. He used his free time to learn Norwegian from a book which Tilda sent him and to write love letters for soldiers, in exchange for them taking on certain tasks he did not like. He also wrote daily letters to Tilda.
A mutual friend from the USA who had stayed at the same home as Tilda invited her to the USA to improve her conversational English and even sent her a ticket to travel by boat to New York. She decided to travel to Travnik to tell Dušan about this invitation and to ask him to help her decide what to do. Dušan answered: "Go. If you love me, you will return, if not, it is better that our love ends like this."
On the 17th April 1961, Tilda boarded the ship "Bovec" and set off into the unknown.
After completing his military service, Dušan returned to Belgrade, intending to find a job and invite Tilda to return.
By the end of 1961, Dušan found a job working for “Književne novine” as one of the sub-editors (the editor in chief was Predrag Palavestra, who would become a lifelong friend). Dušan immediately informed Tilda of the good news, and she boarded the first ship back. On the 29th November, Dušan was waiting for her at the train station in Belgrade.
Dušan and Tilda were married on the 3rd February 1962, in Belgrade. Along with Dušan's extensive family and Tilda’s small family, the majority of their guests were their friends from the student home. The guests had to make their way to the Registry Office by foot, walking one behind the other, through deep snow which hadn't stopped falling all night. Afterwards, the wedding lunch was held in the restaurant "Dva jelena" (The two stags), in Skadarlija and the celebration continued with singing and dancing at the home of Dušan’s uncle Nemanja, in Strahinjića Bana street.
Dušan worked day and night and, in addition to his day job, he translated a variety of texts from many authors in all parts of the world from English into Serbian, which were published in various magazines: "Putevi", "Život", "Korijen", "Književnost", "Susreti", "Danas", "Izraz", "Scena”. Some were also serialised on Radio Sarajevo "Treći program" (radio 3).
In 1962, the publishing company “Svjetlost", Sarajevo, published Dušan’s first translation of the book The Wind Cannot Read by Richard Mason.
From the 3rd to the 17th of July 1964, Dušan was part of a group of Yugoslav journalists who visited the UK as guests of the Central Office for Information. During their visit, they were taken to lots of cultural institutions in London, Oxford, Stratford, Coventry and Birmingham, meeting prominent people in British artistic and cultural life. After visiting Shakespeare’s Theatre in Stratford, the reporters went on to The Old Vic in London, where they presented their hosts with a plaque celebrating Shakespeare in Yugoslavia.
In 1964, Dušan and Nikola Koljević together translated the book Principles of Literary Criticism by I. A. Richards, which was published by "Veselin Masleša" in Sarajevo.
In 1965, Dušan translated from Serbian into English a part of Vladimir Dedijer's book Sarajevo 1914, published in 1966 under the title The Road to Sarajevo by "Simon and Schuster", New York.
His first daughter, Dina, was born in 1965. His second daughter Duška arrived 6 years later.
The first edition of Dušan's translation of James Baldwin's book, Another Country, was published by “Svjetlost”, Sarajevo in 1966, followed by a second edition twenty years later.
From the 21st August to 17th September, Dušan attended the 106th Session in American Studies - the Literary Arts in America, held at castle Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg.
On the 8th November, at Kolarac University in Belgrade, Dušan interviewed Danilo Kiš as part of a literary evening in the cycle "One Generation of Prose Writers".
On the 25th November, also at Kolarac University, Dušan chaired a discussion on "Literature and Revolution", as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the revolution. Participants included: Bratko Kreft, Zvonimir Golob, Meša Selimović, Aleksandar Spasov, Milorad Stojović and Zoran Gluščević.
In 1967, Dušan contributed to the translation of the Contemporary illustrated encyclopedia - Man the Artist, published by “Vuk Karadžic”, Belgrade.
In 1969, Dušan became part of the editorial board and the secretary of the literary magazine "Savremenik", as well as the secretary of the Serbian PEN Club (until 1973).
In 1970, his translation of the book by Cecil Maurice Bowra, The Heritage of Symbolism, was published by “Nolit”.
In October 1970, he started writing a regular column for the weekly publication "NIN" called "To read or not to read". The collection of his articles from October 1970 to February 1975 was printed in his book Ugovor s Đavolom (A Pact with the Devil), published in 1990 by "Stručna knjiga", Belgrade.
In February 1973, as secretary of the PEN Club, he visited Germany with other members: Predrag Palavestra, Vasko Popa, Sonja Bašić (from Croatia), Mira Mihelič and Bogdan Pogačnik (from Slovenia).
During these years he translated the complete book History of Modern Art - Painting, Sculpture, Architecture by H. H. Arnason, which was published in 1975 by "Yugoslavia", Belgrade, whose editor in chief was Ivan Lalić. This book was subsequently updated by adding a section on photography, translated by other translators and reprinted in 2008.
In October 1973, Dušan, as the chosen candidate of the Republic Fund for International Cooperation, moved with his family to the UK for one year to teach Serbo-Croat language and literature at the University of Lancaster, Department of Yugoslav studies. That department was newly founded by Sir Cecil Parrott, who until 1941 was a tutor to the young Petar Karađorđević, heir to the Yugoslav throne. The Republic Fund then offered Dušan the opportunity to extend his stay at the university for another two years, which he accepted.
The Department of Yugoslav Studies was so successful that the University of Lancaster offered Dušan a permanent position (tenure) in 1976. Soon Dušan also became a regular external examiner at Bradford University.
Around the same time, Tilda also found a permanent job in the English company "Storeys of Lancaster", which had just entered into a joint venture agreement with a Croatian company "Pazinka", Pazin, for the production of vinyl coated wallpapers.
In February 1977, Dušan and Kolja Mićević together translated Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth into Serbian. The translation was intended to be used for a TV adaptation, but this was never made. Kolja had taken the original manuscript back with him to Paris and when he re-discovered it in 2020 amongst his papers he phoned Tilda to tell her, adding: "Publish it if you would like, I need to go to Banja Luka with materials about Dante." The translation eventually saw the light of day as the first book published by "Srednja Zemlja", Beograd in 2021. Sadly, neither Dušan nor Kolja lived to see the book, the presentation of which took place on 5 October 2021 in the hall of the Serbian Literary Society, in the building where Dušan had an office many years ago and where Kolja had on a number of occasions spoken about some of his other books.
In 1981, the publishing company "Glas", Banja Luka, published the first edition of Dušan’s translation of the book Songs and Sonnets (translated into Serbian as "A lecture on shadows") by John Donne (reprinted in 1990).
In 1982, he participated in the AATSEEL (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages) conference in Chicago.
In the early 1980s, mass reforms in the financing of universities were introduced affecting universities across in England, which led to the closure of five departments at the University of Lancaster, including the Department of Yugoslav Studies.
In 1984 Sir Cecil Parrott facilitated Dušan's transfer to London, to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), where he ran a variety of courses in Serbo-Croat language and literature.
That year he participated in two conferences about Ivo Andrić, the first in London (SSEES) and the second at the University of Nancy in France.
In the same year he attended the Fifth International Congress of AIESEE (Association Internationale d'Etudes du Sud-Est Européen) in Belgrade.
In 1985, Dušan contributed to the book Solzhenitsyn in Exile: Critical Essays and Documentary Materials. One of the editors of the book was Michael Nicholson, a colleague from the Department of Russian Language and Literature. The book was published at Stanford University, USA.
In 1987, he participated in the 19th National Convention of AAASS (American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies) in Boston, USA.
In the same year, he spoke at conferences in Nottingham (Miloš Crnjanski and Modern Serbian Literature) and in London (The Study of Oral Tradition and the South Slavs).
Dušan gave numerous lectures in language and other aspects of the Yugoslav way of life to The British Yugoslav Society, which had several branches throughout the UK. The Scottish branch in Edinburgh, whose president was Sir Fitzroy McLean, organized a music evening of the 7th December 1988, which Dušan led.
On the 24th and 25th February 1989, the South Bank Centre in London hosted a presentation of Eastern European poetry, "Child of Europe - The Eastern European readings - the new landscape of Eastern Europe through its poetry, bringing together the finest young poets from eight communist states", in which the poet Gojko Đogo, from Serbia, participated. This was when Dušan started translating Gojko's poems into English, and their collaboration and friendship continued until the end of Dušan's life. He translated over a hundred poems, some alone, and some with Michael March, and that collection of Gojko's poems was eventually published in 2019 by "Matica Srpska", Novi Sad and The Serbian Literary Company, Toronto, in a book called Ovid in Tomis.
During the same year, Dušan participated in the organization of the conference "Language Planning in Yugoslavia" at SSEES, London. He received an invitation from Prof. Richard Kindersley of St. Antony's College, Oxford, to give a lecture on "Literature and Politics in Yugoslavia", and again on the same theme from the British Yugoslav Society in London.
In 1989, the publishing company "Glas" from Banja Luka published his book Tragom Teksta (On the trail of the text), a collection of essays on Ivo Adrić, Miloš Crnjanski, Jovan Skerlić and Branko Lazarević, as well as three essays on American and English Marxist critics and T. S. Eliot.
In the late 1980s, Dušan met one of the greatest living Scottish poets, Norman MacCaig. Alison Closs, the Honorary Secretary of the Scottish Branch of the British Yugoslav Society, with whom Dušan always stayed when in Scotland, had left a collection of MacCaig’s poems on Dušan's bedside table. He liked the poems so much that he could not sleep the whole night, until he had finished reading the whole book. With MacCaig's permission, he immediately began translating the poems, intending to publish the collection in Belgrade. However because of subsequent events, the book Izveštaj plemenu (Report to the Tribe), was not published for another 18 years. In 2008, the book with the dedication: "For Alison, from whom it all began" was finally published by "Archipelag", Belgrade. Unfortunately, Norman MacCaig did not live to see it. He died in 1996 in Edinburgh.
In 1990, at the initiative of prof. Biljana Šljivić Šimšić, from the University of Illinois, Chicago, Dušan and Biljana undertook a six-month exchange. While she came to London, Dušan went to the University of Illinois, where he gave regular lectures on language and literature. At the same time he also gave a number of lectures at various other universities in the USA:
The Struggle with Love ‒ The Theme of Sevdah in Bosnian Love Songs, University of Illinois, Chicago (12/2/90)
Illustrated Lecture on Medieval Serbian Art: Monasteries, Frescoes, Icons, Boston College, Massachusetts (23/2/90)
Politics and Literature in Yugoslavia, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio (8/3/90)
Ivo Andrić and the Jews, Penn State University (2/4/90)
Politics and Literature in Yugoslavia 1970‒1980, Stephens Hall, University of California, Berkeley (18/4/90)
Branko Radičević and Byron, University of Chicago (26/5/90)
While in the USA, he also participated in the conference "Modernism and Avant-Garde in Yugoslav Lands 1900-1940" at the University of California, Los Angeles.
On the 24th July 1990, upon his return from the USA, he attended the 4th World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies in Harrogate, along with Predrag Palavestra, Dobrica Ćosić, Svetozar Stojanović and Sofija Škorić from Toronto, Canada.
In 1991, Dušan, together with honorary president Nenad Petrović and writer Sonja Besford, revived the London branch of the Association of Serbian Writers Abroad (ASWA), originally established in 1951. The first meeting of the old and new members of the Association was dedicated to Borislav Pekić on the 20th February 1993. During the turbulent war years of the 1990s, when cultural ties between Yugoslavia and Great Britain were almost completely broken, Dušan, Sonja, and one of the newer members of the Association, Jasmina Holbus, organized over twenty literary evenings with guest authors from Yugoslavia: Momo Kapor, Vida Ognjenović, Dragan Velikić, Ljubiša Manojlović, Ivan Lalić, Slobodan Selenić, Kolja Mićević, Predrag Palavestra, Svetozar Koljević, Matija Bećković and others. In a short time, the Association published three books translated into English: Three Comedies (Branislav Nušić), The Serbian Epic Ballad (traditional) and Jewish Writers in Serbian Literature (Predrag Palavestra), with a further two books published at a later date: Poems (Jovan Hristić) and Arrivals and Departures (Sonja Besford). The first two books were translated from Serbian into English by Geoffrey N. W. Locke, who in the preface writes: "I must express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Dušan Puvačić of London University for his meticulous examination of my work and for his invaluable correction of my errors, gross and minor, and particularly for his suggestions as to the best way to transcribe some nuances of meaning which I had mistaken or missed. If faults remain, they are mine.”
During the civil war in Yugoslavia Dušan supported his family in Banja Luka. As well as sending financial help to his mother, brother and other close family, he also welcomed into his home his brother's teenage daughter and son (who had managed to board the last plane out from Banja Luka). In addition, at the request of Father Milun Kostić from the Serbian Orthodox Church St. Sava in London, he sent monthly financial aid to a mother in a mixed marriage and her two children, whose husband had died in the war.
The International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, led jointly by the United Nations and the European Community was held in London on the 26th and 27th August 1992. Dušan played an important role in organising for the article "Fair Play for Yugoslavia", written by friends of Yugoslavia, to be published in the advertising space on the first page of The Times and for a copy of that newspaper to be placed on every conference participant’s chair.
In November 1993 Dušan attended the 25th Annual Convention of the American Association for Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS) in Honolulu, Hawaii.
On the 3rd February 1994, Dušan organized and led a literary evening at SSEES with the London branch of ASWA. Among others, Nenad Petrović, the honorary president of the Association was present, along with other old and new members (Sonja Besford, Bika Reed, Jasmina Holbus, Igor Klikovac, Rajko Davidović and others).
On the 29th March 1995, Dušan gave a lecture at SSEES in London on "Tin Ujević and the Yugoslav Idea".
During 1996 and 1997, Dušan regularly travelled to the University of Cambridge, Department of Serbian language and literature, to give lectures on Serbian language and literature.
In November 1997 Dušan attended the 29th Annual Convention of AAASS in Seattle, USA, where he was one of the participants in a round table discussion about "The Breakup of Yugoslavia: Cinematic Reflections". After Seattle, Dušan swore that he would never again set foot in the USA.
In 1997 Dušan retired from university life and began to pursue his other interests.
In August 1998, Dušan and Vladimir Miličić, Professor of Linguistics at Western Washington University - Bellingham, together founded the first online electronic journal for literature, art, language and culture, KRITIKA etc. The journal consisted of articles mainly in English and Serbian - the majority dedicated to literature and literary criticism but there was also poetry, stories, novels and translations of prose. KRITIKA etc. was a journal that was continuously being updated. Its publication stopped in 2004 when Vladimir Miličić retired and no longer had access to the university server on which all of this material had been stored. Dušan transferred the complete contents onto CD, a copy of which he presented to the British Library.
In 2001, Dušan prepared and "Akademija nova" published a book by his father Zlatko Puvačić (1901-1982), Stara Banja Luka (Old Banja Luka). The book was presented to a packed auditorium at Banski Dvori in Banja Luka on the 21st June 2001. Besides Dušan, prof. Branko Milanović, Ranko Risojević from Banja Luka, and Ljubomir Kljakić (the director of Akademija nova) presented the book. Another presentation of the book was organised in Belgrade, in the grand hall of the Chamber of Commerce, which was attended by the vast majority of ex-residents of Banja Luka who were at that time living in Belgrade. Among them was prima donna Radmila Smiljanić, who sang and led Bosnian songs and sevdalinkas.
Dušan also made a “book of remembrance” from his father's manuscripts describing his imprisonment in Osnabrück during the Second World War. Dušan made only 5 copies of this book for family members, one of which he kept. This was later sent to the Orthodox Church in Osnabrück where it was photocopied and placed at the entrance to the church. It was then presented to the British Library, as a unique copy, which can only be read in the library itself.
Dušan’s article, "Pekić in London" was included in the book Drugi o Pekiću (Others About Pekić), prepared by Ljiljana Pekić and Mihajlo Pantić, published in 2002.
At that time, he was also working intently with the academic Predrag Palavestra on the manuscripts of Branko Lazarević and together they prepared the Collected Works of Branko Lazarević. Between 2003 and 2005, the first six books were published by "Zavod za udžbenike", Belgrade, and three more were published in the following years. The presentation of the books was held on the 13th June 2006 in the salon of the club of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade. The speakers were Predrag Palavestra, Dušan and Petar Pijanović, the editor of the books.
In 2007, the quarterly periodical "Književnost" was re-established, whose editor-in-chief was Bogdan A. Popović, with the rest of the editorial board comprising of Gojko Božović, Đordje Despić, Dejan Mihajlović, Duško Novaković, Predrag Protić and Dušan Puvačić. Dušan's contribution in each issue was "Pisma i komentari" (Letters and comments). In the first year, he contributed four articles, and the following year, a further three. His contribution for the fourth issue was never completed.
In the autumn of 2008, Izveštaj plemenu, Dušan's translation of Norman MacCaig’s poems, was finally published. Dušan gave an interview on Serbian television and gave some details about MacCaig's life and character.
On the night of the 7th-8th November 2008, working on his computer at home in London, Dušan suffered a severe stroke, which left him without the use of the entire right side of his body and wheelchair bound for life. But, even more tragically, although his memory remained completely intact, he was deprived of the power of communication (aphasia); not only did he lose the ability to speak his thoughts but he could no longer read or write.
Tilda, Dina and Duška hoped that, with various therapies, Dušan would recover some of what he lost, but when after 5 years it was clear that this would not happen, they decided to publish the first and only book of his essays in English. In a drawer amongst his other papers they found these essays, which Dušan had clearly been preparing for possible publication before his stroke. The book, Balkan Themes - Tradition and Change in Serbian and Croatian Literature, is dedicated to his grandchildren Oliver, Luka and Carla. The book was written in English, published in France and printed in Belgrade. The publisher was "Éditions Ésopie" in Paris, established by Raško Mićević, son of Kolja Mićević, one of Dušan's oldest and best friends. The presentation of the book, together with a celebration of Dušan’s professional life, took place on the 13th November 2013 at the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in London. Besides Dušan and his family, the embassy hall was full of Dušan’s colleagues, friends, students and acquaintances, including the Ambassador Mr. Pribičević. You can read the book online here.
The following year, Tilda made the difficult decision for her and Dušan to leave England and their immediate family and to return "home". They arrived in Belgrade just before Easter, on the 15th April 2015, after almost 42 years in England.
Dušan passed away on the 18th July 2017. The urn containing his ashes was laid in the columbarium in the New Cemetery in Belgrade.
On the 2nd October 2017, Dejan Simonović from Srpsko Književno Društvo (Serbian Literary Society) organised In Memoriam: Dušan Puvačić in a packed hall of the Literary Club, at which Bogdan A. Popović, Predrag Protić and Gojko Đogo remembered and spoke about their mutual friend (see the translation of these talks into English here).