vaclav-havel-2010

Vaclav Havel, shown July 20, 2010, has won the Kafka prize for his plays and essays. ((Petr David Josek/Associated Press))

Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel has won the Franz Kafka literary prize for what a jury called "artistically exceptional literary work by a contemporary author." 

The 7,200-euro ($10,240 Cdn) prize named for the German writer, who spent most of his life in Prague, has been presented for the past 10 years by the Franz Kafka Society and the City of Prague.

Havel, 74, was chosen for his plays and essays by an international jury.

"Vaclav Havel is the author of vast literary-dramatic work ... which in many respects influences Czech, European and world literature," the Kafka Society said in a statement announcing his win Tuesday.

Havel, who was president for 14 years — first of Czechoslovakia, then of the Czech Republic — was a dissident playwright under the former communist regime and spent time in prison and doing menial jobs. He was known for his advocacy of freedom of expression and for plays that parodied the absurdities of the regime.

Havel was a hero of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled communism and was Czechoslovakia's first post-Communist president.

He later became president of the Czech Republic after the Slovaks separated in 1993. Since stepping down from office in 2003, he has returned to writing, penning a new play and a film script.

Past winners of the Kafka prize include American writer Philip Roth, British playwright Harold Pinter and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.