22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Jan Novák

Portrait Jan Novák
© Ali Ghandtschi

The Czech-American writer, playwright, and screenwriter Jan Novák was born in 1953 in Kolín. His family escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1969, first going to an Austrian refugee camp and finally moving to Cicero, Illinois, in 1970. Novák studied at the University of Chicago, where he was discovered by the Czech-American publisher Josef Škvorecký, who published Novák’s first book »Striptease Chicago« (1983). These short stories depict the experiences of Czech immigrants in America and the dialog sometimes reflects their proclivity toward interbreeding Czech and English languages into a nonsensical Czenglish. After that, Novák started writing in English. His publisher nominated his first novel »The Willys Dream Kit« (1985) for the Pulitzer Prize. The book follows the life of a spirited youth, who becomes an embezzler and a gambler, and stretches from the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia to the protagonist’s death in America, and it has been losely based on the life of his father. Novák’s second novel »The Grand Life« (1987) is a parody of corporate and computer culture in Chicago. The non-fiction book »Commies, Crooks, Gypsies, Spooks & Poets« (1995), which was awarded the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, describes his experiences during a one-year stay in Prague in 1992/93. Novák also co-authored the autobiography of Miloš Forman, which appeared in 1993 under the title »Turnaround« and was translated into 22 languages. In 2004, Novák published his »true novel« »So Far, So Good« descibing the story of the Mašín brothers, who fought violently against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and in 1953 fled to West Berlin, thus triggering the largest search operation in the history of the GDR Volkspolizei. His other books include novels »Děda« (2006; tr. Grandpa) and »Aljaška« (2011; tr. Alaska), books of interviews »Za vodou« (2009; tr. On the Other Side of the Pond) and »Život mimo kategorie« (2015; tr. A Life Beyond Category). Together with Jaromír Švejdík, he created the graphic novels »Zátopek« (2016) and »Zatím dobrý«, a comics version of his earlier novel.

His theater plays include »Czechs« (1979), »Ax Murder in St. Petersburg« (2000) and »Tolstoy and Money« (2009). For the movies, he wrote the screenplay for »Báječná léta pod psa« (»Wonderful Years that Sucked«, 1990), which is based on an autobiographical novel by Michal Viewegh and tells the story of a Czech family from 1963 to the Velvet Revolution, as well as Slovak film »Nedodržený slib« (2009), which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. With his son Adam, he made two documentary films about Czech Playwright/President Václav Havel, »Citizen Havel Goes on Vacation« (2005) and »Citizen Havel Is Rolling the Empties« (2009). For his work, Novák has won numerous awards both in the USA and in the Czech Republic, including the 2005 Magnesia Litera Prize. He lives in Prague and Chicago.