04-04-2003

From April 6 until April 10, the Czech capital will host the thirteenth Prague Writers' Festival. Later on this month, on April 24, all bookworms from around the country will converge on the Czech capital for the International Prague Book Fair. One of the most beloved writers in the Czech Republic Arnost Lustig is experiencing considerable success abroad with his novel "Lovely Green Eyes", and the nominations for the second year of the Magnesia Litera Awards have been announced in Prague.

Prague Writers' Festival starts on Sunday

From April 6 until April 10, the Czech capital will host the thirteenth Prague Writers' Festival, featuring such distinguished guests as the Indian writer and winner of the Booker Prize, Arundhati Roy, the famous Scottish author Irvine Welsh and the Israeli writer Amos Oz. Among the world-renowned authors taking part will also be the author of the holocaust comic book Maus Art Spiegelman, and the Canadian Booker winner Yann Martel. Czech authors due to participate are science fiction writer Josef Nesvadba and translators Josef Rauvolf and Ladislav Nagy.

The Prague Writers´ Festival celebrates its 13th anniversary this year. Over the years it has changed venues around Prague: the Viola Theatre, the Franz Kafka Centre, the Celetná Theatre, the Studio Ypsilon and finally Theatre Minor, a beautifully renovated building not far from Wenceslas Square. In the history of the festival, Prague has witnessed great writers such as Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Salman Rushdie and Susan Sontag, to name but a few.

The five days of the festival will be filled with public readings, discussions and signings in Prague bookshops, on the premises of New York University in Prague as well as the main venue of the festival, Theatre Minor.

Prague International Book Fair to start on April 24

Later on this month all bookworms from around the country will converge on the Czech capital for the International Prague Book Fair, which starts on April 24 and lasts until April 27. This year the book fair will feature African literature, namely the 100 best African books of the 20th century.

Arnost Lustig's "Lovely Green Eyes" successful in United States

Moving on to Czech authors, and one of the most beloved writers in the Czech Republic, and all of Central Europe, Arnost Lustig, is experiencing considerable success abroad with his novel "Lovely Green Eyes". First published in the Czech Republic in 2000, the novel appeared in an English translation two years later on the American market, where it earned high critical acclaim. The story of Hanka Kaudersova, a 15-year-old Jewish girl from Prague who finds herself transported with her mother, father and brother from Terezin to Auschwitz, appealed so much to readers and literary critics that it has made it on the shortlist for the British Wingate Literary Prize. The American Library Association has included the novel in its 2003 list of 12 outstanding books recommended to the general reader. Arnost Lustig's American publisher has therefore decided to enter "Lovely Green Eyes" in this year's Pulitzer Prize competition. We'll have to wait for the results until this following Monday, when the committee will announce the winners.

Arnost Lustig is the author of many critically acclaimed novels and short story collections, all centred on the holocaust. Notable among his works that have been translated into English are "Diamonds of the Night", "A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova" and "Darkness Casts No Shadow". Arnost Lustig's awards include a National Book Award nomination for "A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova", two Jewish National Book Awards, an Emmy for a television screenplay, and the Karel Capek Prize of the Czech Pen Club.

Nominations for second year of Magnesia Litera Awards announced

On Wednesday, the nominations for the second year of the Magnesia Litera Awards were announced in the Adria Palace in Prague. Founded last year by the civic association Litera, the awards are the only literary prize in the Czech Republic to have its own television show, just like the Czech film or music awards. There are various literary awards in the country - for example the Jungmann Prize for the best translation of fiction, the State Prize for literature, or the Orten Prize for young authors - but none of them gets much publicity. One of the goals of the new award is to create an umbrella award in which all genres of literature would be included. I spoke to Pavel Mandys, a journalist with the weekly Tyden and also a member of the civic association Litera which is behind the Magnesia Litera Awards. I asked him to tell me more about the literary prizes which are now in their second year:

"Magnesia Litera is a book award similar to [the film award] "Cesky lev" in the Czech Republic or "Andel" which is a music prize."

How many categories are there and what are they?

"There are nine categories altogether, seven of them have nominations. One is an honorary category and one is the Book of the Year, which is chosen out of all of the nominations. We have three nominations in each category and the [remaining] seven categories are Litera for prose, Litera for poetry, Litera for the best translation, Litera for the best children's book, Litera for the best debut and Litera for non-fiction."

When will the ceremony be broadcast on television?

"The ceremony itself will be held on May 10 and TV station CT2 will broadcast the ceremony a day later, that is on May 11."

Is there some money to go with the award?

"Well, for the Book of the Year, for the highest prize, the Magnesia Litera, there will be an award of 200,000 crowns."

The aim of the organisers was to attract more attention to books and literature in the Czech Republic. The Magnesia Litera prize was awarded for the very first time last year and at the beginning booksellers were a little reserved, but now they are slowly discovering there may be business opportunities in it for them. It is natural that sales of an awarded book rise significantly. I asked Pavel Mandys whether that had been the case after the first year of the Magnesia Litera Awards.

"Of course, the sales of the winning books rose. But of course, we are on the Czech book market, so this growth was not so high as for example it would have been in Great Britain. The biggest growth in sales was experienced by Hana Andronikova's novel "Zvuk slunencich hodin" (The Sound of the Sundial), which won the prize for best debut, and it sold 1,000 copies more. The book "Boehmische Doerfer" by Juergen Serke, which won the main prize, Magnesia Litera, also experienced some growth but only in the tens, in the dozens."

Are you getting more attention from booksellers this year?

"Yes, slowly the booksellers and the people from the book market know better that the prize is here and they are supporting it, and so we are very happy."

So just to remind you, the winners of all nine categories will be announced on May 10, and the award ceremony, presented by Czech Television anchorwoman Jolana Voldanova and popular actor Jan Kraus, will be broadcast on the second channel of Czech Television on Sunday, May 11.

04-04-2003