From the archives: Josef Skvorecky on Sunday Magazine


Josef Skvorecky ( left) congratulates then-Czech Republic Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus (right) in 1997. Skvorecky was the was a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's Department of English at the time. (Reuters)

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Josef Skvorecky passed away on Tuesday, January 2, after a battle with cancer. The noted Czech-Canadian writer won the Governor General's Literary Award in 1984 for his comic novel, The Engineer of Human Souls.

Skvorecky was also an influential translator, publisher and academic. In the 1950s, he translated many prominent English works -- including books by Ernest Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett -- into Czech. His own early works, including The End of the Nylon Age and The Cowards, were banned by the Czech Communist government.

In 1968, Skvorecky's hometown of Prague was invaded by Soviet tanks, in a military offensive that put an end to the revolution known as the Prague Spring. At the time, Skvorecky was a prominent essayist who wrote passionately about democracy. So he fled his country and began a new life and career.

After coming to Canada in 1971, Skvorecky formed the publishing company 68 Publishers and began to publish the banned worked of many Czech and Slovak writers, including Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel. He would go on to become a writer of detective novels, a radio host and an English professor at the University of Toronto. In 1992, he received the Order of Canada for his writing and advocacy of freedom of speech and democracy.

On January 22, 1978, Skvorecky spoke with Bob Oxley on CBC's Sunday Magazine about the political repression of artists in Czechoslovakia and his personal experience. It was this fight against repression that propelled his dynamic career and would come to define his work in later years.

Listen to the complete archival interview above.