Jim Haynes newsletters

Newsletter No. 678
18th Prague Writers' Festival 1-5 June 2008 "1968, Laughter and Forgetting"

Live from Hotel Josef,
10 March 2008

 

"Whoever's laughing hasn't heard the latest news…" Bertolt Brecht

 

Recently Michael March, the Director of the Prague Writers' Festival, posted me a list of the 20 writers scheduled to attend the 2008 Prague event (from 1 to 5 June). And the subject this year is entitled "1968 - Laughter and Forgetting". Michael has kindly asked me to the Festival again this year and again I will produce a daily blog that will be posted on the Festival web site www.pwf.cz in both English and Czech. Once again the writers will be based in the Hotel Josef (www.hoteljosef.com) surely one of the best hotels in Prague. Excellent staff and excellent location. The Assistant Manager, Milena Findeis, and I met during the Prague Writers' Festival in 2002. This was before the formal opening of the hotel. Later I stayed in the hotel with a friend from New York, John Flattau, and a friend from Paris, Susi Wyss. Then last year it was a pleasure to stay in the hotel again with the other writers attending the 17th Prague Writers' Festival. Milena was her usual kind and delightful self. One afternoon she introduced me to Rudolf Ploberger, the proprietor. Like Milena, he was also delightful. When I thanked him for his generosity of behalf of the other writers attending, I learned that he was pleased to be welcoming us and to be hosting the writers in Prague. So not only is the Hotel Josef a perfect place to be our home in Prague, the two people concerned with the running of the hotel are super nice. Thank you, Milena. And thank you, Rudolf.
For those of you who do not know, Michael March could not have created these Prague Writers' Festivals all these years without the fantastic participation of Vlasta Brtníková. Her official title is Vice-President of the Prague Writers' Festival. Her unofficial title is Mrs. Michael March. Not only does she keep the machine running smoothly, she does it in Czech and English. And always has a smile ready for everyone. One of my pleasures of going to Prague is to share time and space with Vlasta.
This is a brief preview to let the world know a few facts about the 20 writers who have been invited. Of these 20 writers, I am pleased to report that I have spent time with 8 of them:
 

(1) Tariq Ali and I are friends from our London days in the 60s and we recently met again at the Edinburgh Book Festival. He was born the 21st of October 1943 in Lahore, Pakistan. After studying at the Punjab University, his parents sent him to England to study at Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He was elected President of the Oxford Union. He became a historian, novelist, filmmaker, political campaigner and member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review and the newspaper, The Black Dwarf. He is the author of Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002), Bush in Babylon (2003), Conversations with Edward Said (2005), and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Axis Of Hope (2006). And another 25 books. He currently lives in London with his partner, Susan Watkins, editor of the New Left Review. I always thought it would be interesting if Tariq Ali were appointed Director of the United Nations. I think he could do a great job there. And it would not be dull that's for sure.
Tariq Ali
Tariq Ali

(2) Homero Aridjis and his wife, Betty Ferber, and I met in Prague at the 2002 Prague Writers' Festival. Probably at a party. I think at the Mexican Embassy. We met via John Calder, one of my oldest friends, and with one of John's authors, Alain Robbe-Grillet. Alas Alain Robbe-Grillet is no longer with us. He re-joined his ancestors only a week or so ago. And Christopher Logue was with us. Christopher is not only a major poet, he was involved with the New Left Review and with the Black Dwarf with Tariq Ali. Homero has served as Mexico's Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris since April 2007. He was born the 6th of April 1940 to a Greek father and a Mexican mother, the youngest of five brothers. He co-founded the Group of 100, an association of one hundred artists and intellectuals that became heavily involved in trying to draw attention to and solve environmental problems in Mexico. He has published 38 books of poetry and prose. His wife, Betty Ferber, is from America and she is his principal translator from Spanish into English. Michael March is arranging for us to fly together to Prague and I plan to interview them for a future blog. Stay tuned.
Homero Aridjis
Homero Aridjis

(3) Margaret Atwood and her partner, (4) Graeme Gibson, and I met at the Guadalajara Book Fair in 2002 via the Cuban poet, Pablo Armando Fernandez. We met again in Paris when she read at Odile Hellier's Village Voice Bookshop. Margaret Atwood was born the 18th of November 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. A prolific poet, novelist, literary critic, she is the winner of the Booker Prize and numerous other prizes in Canada and elsewhere. She wrote the introduction to a bi-lingual book of poetry by Pablo Armando Fernandez that I co-published (with Mosaic Books in Toronto).

(4) Graeme Gibson is a novelist. He was one of the organizers of the Writers' Union of Canada. Gibson and Margaret Atwood live together in Toronto.

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood
Graeme Gibson
Graeme Gibson

(5) Ivan Klíma and I first met at the Lahti Writers' Reunion in Finland, again at the Edinburgh Book Festival and later at a Prague Writers' Festival in April 2002. He is a novelist, critic, playwright and has served as President of the Czech PEN Club. He was awarded the Kafka Prize in 2002. Ivan Klima, who survived the Terezin concentration camp and whose work was banned by the Communists, is also known as an essayist and columnist. He is one of the most widely-translated Czech authors. His books include My Golden Trades, Judge on Trial, A Summer Affair, Love and Garbage, My First Loves and The Spirit of Prague.
Ivan Klíma
Ivan Klíma

(6) Petr Král was born in Prague in 1941. Beginning his studies with film, he later joined a troupe of post-surrealists. In 1968, he fled to Paris. He quickly adopted the French-language, writing in both French and English. He is both a poet and an essayist. Petr attended one of my Sunday dinners some years ago via the poet, Ted Joans.
Petr Krá
Petr Král

(7) Michael McClure and I met in London in the 60s when his play, The Beard was produced at the Royal Court Theatre. Directed by Rip Torn, the play became a theatrical cause célèbre when it opened in San Francisco in August 1966. The San Francisco Police raided the theatre and arrested the two actors. Later all charges were dropped. When it was produced in London, I got to know Michael, Rip Torn and their actress, Billie Dixon. Both Michael and Rip read poetry at my Arts Laboratory. Later I visited Michael at his home in San Francisco in the 70s. He has become a major American poet.
Michael McClure
Michael McClure

(8) Gary Younge and I shared a week together while attending the Prague Writers' Festival in 2002. We discovered that we both attended university in Edinburgh, where I learned he studied French and Russian at Heriot-Watt University. Gary was born in Hitchin, England in 1969. He is a columnist for The Guardian and is currently the newspaper's American correspondent. (The Guardian is also one of the principal sponsors of the Prague Writers' Festival.) Gary also has a monthly column for The Nation called "Beneath the Radar". His book, No Place Like Home, in which he retraced the route of the civil rights Freedom Riders, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Awards in 1999.
Gary Younge
Gary Younge

 


This leaves 12 writers that I look forward to getting to know. They are :


(1) Paul Auster who is perhaps the most widely read author from America in France today. He lived in Paris from 1970 to 1974. A novelist, poet, writer of screenplays, essays, as well as a translator of writers Stéphane Mallarmé, Joseph Joubert, Jean-Paul Sartre.
Paul Auster
Paul Auster

(2) Slavenka Drakulić from Croatia who I have always admired and have wanted to meet since I first read her book, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. She currently lives in Stockholm with her husband. Drakulić has written for various newspapers and magazines including The Nation, La Stampa, Dagens Nyheter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . Her other books include Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of the War (1992), Café Europa: Life After Communism (1996) and They Would Never Hurt a Fly: War Criminals on Trial in the Hague (2005) as well as four novels.
Slavenka Drakulic
Slavenka Drakulić

(3) Jiří Gruša, is a Czech poet, writer, translator, diplomat and politician and currently President of International PEN. In 1968, he was banned from publishing and he took part in the distribution of samizdat literature. For five years he served as the Czech Ambassador to Germany.
Jirí Gruša
Jiří Gruša

(4) Siri Hustvedt was born in Minnesota. She is a novelist, poet, writer of short stories and essays. She is married to Paul Auster. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their daughter, singer and actress, Sophie Auster.
Siri Hustvedt
Siri Hustvedt

(5) Günter Kunert was born the 6th of March 1929 in Berlin and lived in the German Democratic Republic until 1976 when he was allowed to leave for the Federal Republic (West Germany). He is an extremely versatile writer that includes poetry, short stories, essays, aphorisms, film scripts, a novel and a piece for the theatre. He is also a painter. He and his wife, Marianne, live in Itzehoe in northern Germany.
Günter Kunert
Günter Kunert

(6) Antonín J. Liehm, a political scientist, translator and founder and editor of Lettre Internationale. Born in the Czech Republic, he has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris, the City University of New York, the University of Pennsylvania, and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He lives in Paris.
Antonín J. Liehm
Antonín J. Liehm

(7) Arnošt Lustig was born 21 December 21st 1926 in Prague. As a Jewish boy in Czechoslovakia during World War II, he was sent in 1942 to a number of concentration camps. In 1945, he escaped from a train carrying him to Dachau when an American fighter-bomber destroyed the engine. He returned to Prague in time to take part in the May 1945 anti-Nazi uprising. After the war, he studied journalism at Charles University and then worked for a number of years at Radio Prague. Following the Prague Spring in 1968, he left the country. He taught at the American University in Washington D.C. until he retired in 2003 and returned to live in Prague.
Arnost Lustig
Arnošt Lustig

(8) Dimitris Nollas, a writer of film scripts from Greece who is also an actor. He was born in 1940. He has published ten award-winning books, including short story collections, novels and novellas. He won a National Prize for a short story in 1983 and a National Prize for the novel in 1993 for the book, The Sepulcher by the Sea. He is a founding member of the Scriptwriters' Guild of Greece and has co-written a number of feature films. His book, I Dream of my Friends, was made into a 1992 feature film, described by the organizers of the 44th Thessaloniki International Film Festival as "the most creative film adaptation of Modern Greek Literature." Nollas serves as the president of the National Book Center and lives in Athens.
Dimitris Nollas
Dimitris Nollas

(9) Igor Pomerantsev, born in the Soviet Union in 1948, attended the University of Czernowitz (Ukraine) and obtained his MA degree in English language and literature, left for a job with the BBC Russian Service. Writes books of non-fiction, fiction and poetry in Russian language. Now living in Prague. He has published two stories with my friend, Natasha Perova's Glas Editions, an English-language publishing company in Moscow.
Igor Pomerantsev
Igor Pomerantsev

(10) Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke was born in Athens in 1939. She studied foreign languages and literature at the universities of Athens, Nice and Geneva. Since 1963 she has published many volumes of poetry, including The Body Is the Victory And the Defeat of Dreams, The Scattered Papers of Penelope, Beings and Things of Their Own and From Purple into the Night. She was awarded the National Prize for Poetry in 1985, and her collected poems were published in 1998. She lives in Athens.
Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke
Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke

(11) Elena Schwarz was born in 1948 in St. Petersburg. Because her poems possessed a religious character and a style which shocked the censors, she published her work in samizdat - enjoying an ever-increasing, though secret, popularity - until perestroika permitted Storony svieta (Four Quarters of the Globe) to be published in 1989. Her first collection of poetry Tanzuyushzy David (Dancing David) was published in New York in 1985, followed by Stichi (Poems), published in Paris in 1987. Now recognized as one of Russia's finest contemporary poets, Schwarz's recent poetry - Piesnia pticyna dnie morskom (Birdsong on a Seabed) - is readily available in St. Petersburg where she resides.
Elena Schwarz
Elena Schwarz

(12) Ludvík Vaculík, born 23 July 1926 in Brumov, is a Czech writer and journalist. A prominent samizdat writer, he is most famous as the author of the "Two Thousand Words" manifesto of June 1968. At the beginning of the eighties, Vaculík published The Czech Dreambook, a diary novel, which recorded the real and imaginary events of 1979. Since then, he has published My Dear Classmates, Immemoirs, A Mountain Trip to Praded, and more recently The Last Word, a collection of feuilletons. Ludvik Vaculik lives in Prague.
Ludvík Vaculík
Ludvík Vaculík

 

The subject for this year's gathering is the 60s, but like all subjects at all gatherings, it may well wander far and wide. The 60s can best be summed up by the titles of two songs, "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles and John Lennon's "Imagine". It was a time for hope and the idea that anything could happen. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" sang Bob Dylan and indeed they were. The 60s began for me in 1959 when I opened my bookshop and gallery in Edinburgh, followed by a decade or more of creative activities, from co-organizing a writers conference in 1962 (with John Calder and Sonia Orwell) to co-founding newspapers in London and Amsterdam. The end of the 60s found me accepting a Visiting Professorship at the newly created University of Paris VIII in the bois de Vincennes (in 1969). In one sense the 60s have never ended. Every Sunday night for the past 30 years, my atelier in Paris welcomes people from all corners of the world for an evening of dining, drinking and talking. In the late 60s, I started writing newsletters and now they number almost 700. (For the curious, some can be read on my web site, www.jim-haynes.com.) Everyone attending this Prague Writers Festival has their own experiences of the 60s. It will be fun and stimulating to walk down memory lane with these 20 writers and with the contributions from the audiences attending. How much is relevant today? Can we still be inspired? Or are we too jaded to care and to relate to those innocent days when we were all younger? I, for one, elect to keep the 60s spirit alive in my daily life. And from what I know of all those attending this Festival, I am not the only one.

It is going to be a great week. See you there?


 

(Note: Some of the information above was acquired from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and some from Michael March and the Prague Writers' Festival website, www.pwf.cz .)

All pictures are courtesy of the Prague Writers' Festival.

 
read the blog on the Prague Writers' Festival Website
 
Jim Haynes for the Prague Writers' Festival J Haynes blog , 10 March 2008
 

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris

 


 

 

Jim Haynes' newsletter