The Czech dissident poet and author Josef Škvorecký has died in Canada aged 87. Škvorecký had resided in Canada since fleeing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The National Post has reported that the author and poet Josef Škvorecký has died. The death, on January 3, was confirmed by Dr. Škvorecký 's wife, the actress and writer Zdena Salivarova. CBC News states that he died in hospital, battling cancer.
The death of Škvorecký shortly followed after that of his fellow dissident, the playwright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel.
Josef Škvorecký was born in Náchod (north-eastern Bohemia), Czechoslovakia in 1924 and gained a PhD in Philosophy. During the 1950s and 1960s he wrote several novels, each of which was banned by the authorities, and played a part in the dissident movement which briefly led to a more liberal regime forming in Czechoslovakia (the so-termed “Prague Spring”) until it was suppressed by the 1968 Soviet invasion. As the Soviet tanks rolled in, Škvorecký and his wife fled to Canada.
The Washington Post recounts how, once established in Toronto, Škvorecký founded, in 1971, a publishing house called "68 Publishers". The company published a series of works by Czech and Slovak writers whose works had been banned in their home country. This included texts by Havel and Milan Kundera (author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"). In total over 200 books were produced by Škvorecký's publishing group.
The Globe and Mail notes that in addition to publishing the works of other dissidents and émigrés, many of Škvorecký 's own works were also published such as "The Engineer of Human Souls" (winner of the Governor-General’s Award in 1984); "The Cowards", and "The Bass Saxophone". Three television serials were adapted from Škvorecký's literature: "Sins for Father Knox", "The Swell Season" and "Murders for Luck".
The themes of Škvorecký's work, as a review at Glasgow University interprets, include the horrors of totalitarianism, drawing on his experience of communism in Czechoslovakia, the expatriate experience, drawing on his experiences on living in Canada, and jazz music, a universal signifier cutting across countries and cultures.
As well as being a publisher and continuing as an author, Toronto.com mentions that Škvorecký also taught at the University of Toronto until his retirement in 1990. Among his many awards, Škvorecký was given the Order of Canada (OM).