Famous Czech Writers of the 20th Century

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Franz KafkaFranz Kafka is undoubtedly the most famous representative of the tradition of German-language literature in Prague, and his works have earned worldwide acclaim. Franz Kafka was born in Prague, studied law and worked as a clerk all his life. Yet he considered writing to be his life’s principal mission. He was very critical of everything he wrote and most of his works were only published posthumously, against his will. Among Franz Kafka’s most widely read works are The Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle, and collected stories, journals and letters. Kafka suffered from a lung disease, to which he finally succumbed after seven years, in the Austrian town of Kierling.

Karel Čapek (1890-1938)

Karel ČapekKarel Čapek was a major Czech writer, translator, playwright, journalist, critic and philosopher. He established the Czechoslovak branch of the international writers’ organisation Pen Club. He was a friend of the first Czechoslovak president, T. G. Masaryk, and an avid traveller. He wrote short stories (Money and Other Stories), novels with a sci-fi element (Krakatit), utopian dramas (R.U.R. – in which the word ‘robot’ was coined), allegories and poetic prose (Meteor, An Ordinary Life). He warned about the danger of Fascism in his novel War with the Newts. He died of pneumonia less than three months after the Munich Agreement was signed.

Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986)

Jaroslav SeifertThe only Czech laureate of the Nobel Prize in literature, Jaroslav Seifert was a Czech poet and journalist. In the 1920s he was an editor of Communist periodicals but at the end of the decade he was expelled from the party for his opinions. At that time, he was a major representative of the Czech artistic avant-garde. Until 1949, he wrote for social-democratically oriented newspapers and magazines. Later, he concentrated on poetry alone. Seifert was an unbelievably prolific poet. His collections include: The Nightingale Sings Poorly (1926), Put out the Lights (1938), Helmet of Clay (1945), Mother (1954), All the Beauties of the World (1981), to name but a few. He received the Nobel Prize in 1984.

Vladimír Holan (1905–1980)

Vladimír HolanVladimír Holan was a Czech poet and translator. He published his first collection already in 1926, the same year he graduated from secondary school. Later he worked as a clerk, but due to health problems and his dissatisfaction with the job he retired after seven years. He then dedicated himself only to literature. After the 2nd World War, Holan sympathised with Communism. During the 1950s, he was, however, allowed to publish his works only with difficulty. When his daughter died in 1977, Holan stopped writing altogether. His work is characterised by a precise use of the Czech language and philosophical depth. Holan’s poems are mainly meditations and reflections. His collections include Kameni, přicházíš… (1937, You are coming, stone… ), Odpověď Francii (1938, The Reply to France), Terezka Planetová (1943), A Night with Hamlet (1980; in Czech 1964) or Bolest (1965, Pain).

Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997)

Bohumil HrabalBohumil Hrabal graduated from the Law Faculty in Prague, but worked in entirely unrelated professions: as a railway worker, train dispatcher, packager of old paper, steelworker, and salesman. He did not become a professional writer until 1963. His work is extensive and strongly autobiographical. Many of his books were turned into films during his lifetime. The film rendering of Closely Observed Trains was awarded an Oscar. Hrabal’s most famous works include Larks on a String (1959), Closely Observed Trains (also published as Closely Watched Trains) (1964), Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (1964), Cutting It Short (1976), The Snowdrop Festival (1978), I Served the King of England (1971, published in 1980) and Too Loud A Solitude (1980).

Josef Škvorecký (1924)

Josef ŠkvoreckýJosef Škvorecký is a Czech writer, essayist, translator and publisher. He only started university after the 2nd World War, and studied English and philosophy. He worked as a teacher and editor and became a professional writer in 1963. In 1969, he left to lecture at Cornell University in the United States. After the Czechoslovak regime suspended preparations for the publication of his book The Republic of Whores, he and his wife decided to remain in exile. They settled in Toronto and established the exile publishing house ’68 Publishers, which published books that were banned in Czechoslovakia. By 1993, 227 titles had been published there. Škvorecký’s most broadly known books include The Cowards (1949), The Republic of Whores (also known as The Tank Battalion) (1954), Sins for Father Knox (1974), The Swell Season (1975) and the Voice from America (1990).

Milan Kundera (1929)

Milan KunderaMilan Kundera studied musicology, film, literature, and aesthetics, and later taught world literature at Prague’s Charles University. He was twice a member of the Communist party, and twice expelled from it. In 1970, he became a dissident. In 1975, the University of Rennes offered him the position of visiting professor, and Kundera stayed in France. He lost his Czechoslovak citizenship, and in 1981 he acquired French citizenship. He started lecturing in Paris, where he lives to this day. He has written the novels The Joke (1965), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Immortality (1990), and he is the author of a collection of poems called Monologues (1957), the theatre play The Blunder (1969) and the short story series Laughable Loves.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:01

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