Literary Events in the Czech Republic

A brief guide to literary events in the Czech Republic
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The Czech Republic, and epecially cities like Prague, Brno and Olomouc, have much to offer the lover of literature: apart from larger events such as book fairs and international literary festivals, numerous readings and book launches take place in cafés, tea rooms and clubs, drawing on a tradition of informal literary get-togethers, which, in the pre-Velvet Revolution years, were sometimes forced underground, exisiting in parallel with official presentations of the country's censor-approved literature. To some extent, the two traditions continue in another guise and with an ironic twist: the intimate, more experimental events now receive government support, are attended by the country's minister of culture and its writer ex-president, while the gala-events take care of themselves with the help of the new 'censor' media and market success. And what is post-Velvet Czechia and Moravia if not an appropriately surreal mix of the old and new?

by Magdaléna Platzová

Literary cafés, tea-rooms and clubs

In Prague, the best-known literary café is the eponymous Literární kavárna in Týnská Street, close to the Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí). Though the café offers no regular program, many publishers use it as a venue to promote newly published books. One literary café with a regular program of readings and music is the Obratník ( The Tropic ) in Jindricha Plachty Street. The Globe, Prague's oldest English-language bookshop-cum-café in Patrossova Street in New Town also runs a regular programme of readings in English and Czech as does Shakespeare and Sons in Krymská Street and Jazz-Club Zelezná, in Zelezná street, right in the centre of the Old Town.

In Brno, the place best known for its regular literary meetings is Sklenená louka (Glass Meadow) in Kounicova Street. A charming renaisance house full of cafés and little shops, with a gallery and bar in the attic, it provides a popular venue for literary events. The Kabinet moz (The Cabinet of Muses) in Sukova street runs nightly readings with Czech writers and poets during the month of July.

In Olomouc, the pleasant tea-room U mloka (At the Newt), hosts a festival of poetry from April to July, with several readings per week.

Reviews, magazines, journals

Czech Literary magazines depend on subsidies and many of them come out irregularly as a result. The former underground publication Revolver Revue, which now focuses mainly on visual arts, follows and analyses literary developmnents in it Kritická pYíloha (Critical supplement), while Souvislosti and Labyrint are revues dedicated to culture, visual arts and literature. The Brno-based book press Host brings out the monthly literary review of the same name, while in Prague, there are are the two cultural and political broadsheet-format publications, the bi-weekly Tvar (Form), a journal focused mainly on Czech literature, and the cultural weekly Literární noviny (Literary News) with its literary section.

The English-speaking expatriate community in the Czech Republic produces several periodicals dedicated to literature: the high-quality (and higly irregular) Trafika, named after the traditional Czech tobacconists and newspaper shop, and the Prague Literary Revue, where you will find in-depth commentary, reviews and essays, sections devoted to performance, social criticism and the visual arts, but also the contemporary poetry and short stories by leading and emerging writers, from Central Europe and around the world.
Least but not last there is The New Presence - a magazine for politics, society and culture, which features interesting reviews and interviews with writers.

Book Fairs and Literary Festivals

The Prague Book Fair or BookWorld (Svet knihy), one of the major international book events in the region, has steadily grown since its inception nine years ago. Focusing on a theme and a guest of honour country or countries, it featured Central Europe in 2002 and Africa in 2003, while its 10th birthday edition will focus on Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Housed in the extraordinary glass-and-wrough iron art nouveau exhibition hall built in 1891, the Prague Book Fair is an event for both the book professional and the general public, with a range of events and activities, including book exhibitions, prize-giving ceremonies and numerous book-signings, readings and debates with Czech and foreign authors.

The Prague Writers Festival (Festival spisovatelo Praha), run by an American expat, is a high-glam English-language event which is sometimes seen as using Prague as a back-drop without particuarly engaging with the local scene. Charging the equivalent of UK ticket prices (and the equivalent of a Czech publishing editor's half day's work) and supported by commercial sponsors, the festival can afford to bring to Prague many of the 'usual suspects' of the international literary festival circuit, while bizarrely featuring its own director on the annual programme as a writer side by side with the likes of William Styron, E. L. Doctorow, Margaret Atwood or Arundhati Roy. This year, the festival scored high points with the media when the US author Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex while attending the event.

A relatively new festival, Poetry without frontiers (Poezie bez hranic), started two years ago in the North-Moravian university town of Olomouc by the Brno-based publisher of Czech literature Petrov, is the opposite of the Prague event in every way: charmingly chaotic and partly improvised, the festival present poetry to wide audiences for free in unusual venues ranging from the famous Olomouc club Ponorka (The Submarine) to the local erotic club and brings together poets from the region with international guests such as Jerome Rothenberg (USA) or Alexandr Kushner (Russia) in a spontaneous atmosphere of improvised readings and slam sessions.

There are other four events I would like to add to this list. Although they are not large, they are vital for the local literary scene and publishing industry. One is The Autumn Book Fair in Havlickuv Brod, held in a small town about 100km south-west of Prague in October.

At the beginning of March, in town of Olomouc, there is another book fair called LIBRI. Partly supported by Visegrad Fund, it presents, publishers and autors from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Part of LIBRI#s programme is The Poet´s Night - an 'open-mike' competition of unpublished poets, who read their work throughout the night. Almost at the same time, in first week of March, one can also visit The children's literature book fare in town of Liberec. The most recent addition to the list started in May 2002 in Moravian town of Zlin (the hometown of the Bata shoe empire), organised by local university students, writers and literature enthusiasts. Literární Zlín (Literary Zlín) features readings, workshops and round tables on various themes such as 'The Publisher and his author', 'Erotica in literature' or 'Literature and the pubs'.

Magdaléna Platzová is the literary editor of the Czech cultural weekly Literární noviny.

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