Prague Summer Program
Annual writers retreat returns to the capital
Posted: July 13, 2011
Katrovas, left and Ivan Klíma at a reading in Divadlo Ypsilon
Most of Prague's theaters and concert halls have shut their doors for the summer, but lovers of literature are in luck, as the Prague Summer Program returns to the capital with a series of readings from lauded American fiction writers and poets and a few notable Czech guests.
The Prague Summer Program is a monthlong series of workshops for poets, fiction writers and photographers hosted by Western Michigan University and Charles University, offering aspiring American writers and a few talented students from Charles University the opportunity to spend a month in Prague studying with a group of world-class literary figures, including this year 2010 National Book Award-winner Jaimy Gordon, poet Pamela Uschuk, Stuart Dybek, Pavel Šrut and Ivan Klíma, among many others.
This summer for the first time, Divadlo Ypsilon hosts twice-weekly readings that are open to the public throughout the month of July.
Richard Katrovas, a professor at Western Michigan University and the author of seven books of poetry, a novel and a memoir, helped found the Prague Summer Program. After first visiting Prague on a Fulbright scholarship, which brought him to the city in time to witness the Velvet Revolution, he has returned each summer to host the program, and has helped hundreds of writers hone their craft.
When: Readings held Tuesday and Thursday in July at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Divadlo Ypsilon
More info at Praguesummer.com
Each year, the program has a distinct theme, and this summer is no different. Taking a cue from a line in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Katrovas has decided to focus on "Writers' and Writing's Relations to Music." Elaborating on that theme, Katrovas points out that "we often call good prose 'lyrical,' suggesting that, like the original lyric expression that was indeed song accompanied by a stringed instrument, it possesses a dynamism unique to music."
"It is the fact of literature's aural dimension that links it to music; all other comparisons between the arts are merely synesthetic," he adds. "Who reads Wuthering Heights and doesn't hear Beethoven? Who reads On the Road and doesn't hear Thelonious Monk? Who reads anything by Shakespeare and doesn't hear, well, the Music of the Spheres?"
Hana Zahradníková, the Prague coordinator of the program, says she is particularly looking forward to some of the readings and lectures associated with the musical theme, citing Ema Katrovas' recital of songs inspired by the literature of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, among others, and Miloš Čuřík's lecture on Czech alternative music during the normalization period as highlights of this year's program.
Richard Katrovas says nearly two decades have brought the Prague Summer Program to a level of legitimacy that equals American writers' retreats like the Bread Loaf conference in Vermont. As a result, American students don't consider a month in Prague as much of an adventure as they once did, and attendees are more attracted by the quality of the faculty than the exotic location.
"Eighteen years ago, at the beginning, students were more audacious. Signing up for the program was a leap of faith," he says.
While music's connection to literature will be explored most intensively in the seminars that are not open to the public, all of the writers who will read their work at Divadlo Ypsilon take a unique approach to the lyric voice and to their language's literature - be it in Czech or English.
Stephan Delbos can be reached at
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