10 reasons why Prague is the hottest place in continental Europe for English-language indie lit

“We are living in the Left Bank of the Nineties.” When legendary International Herald Tribune correspondent and founding Prague Post editor Alan Levy wrote these words, about “living in an historical place at an historical time,” he forecast a literary renaissance in Prague that many doubted and few recognised when indeed it did occur. For after the spotlight of media attention turned away from Prague in the late nineties, a group of writers emerging from the Prague scene had already begun to make their mark. Tom McCarthy, Joshua Cohen, Travis Jeppesen, Louis Armand, Phil Shoenfelt, Myla Goldberg, Christopher Cook, Toby Litt, Robert Eversz have all received international recognition as novelists during the last twenty years, meeting the challenge laid down by Bruce Sterling in Wired magazine to write “new and powerful” work. Notably, all of these writers rejected the Hemingway model of the “expat” novel, producing instead work of universal significance, of which Cohen’s Witz and McCarthy’s Remainder are outstanding examples. But the Prague scene didn’t stop in the ’90s. While the literary tabloids shifted their attention elsewhere, a renaissance has been slowly taking shape in the city of Kafka, driven by a group of older and newer presses, journals and zines. Here’s eight reasons why Prague is the hottest place in continental Europe for English-language indie lit.


*The award-winning Twisted Spoon Press was founded in 1991 by publisher Howard Sidenberg and is the oldest English-language press in Prague. Known for its high-quality translations of Kafka,  Hrabal, Štyrský, Leppin and other figures of the historical Prague avant-garde, Twisted Spoon Press has also published the stunning experimental novels of the late infant-terrible Lukáš Tomin, as well as work by then-emerging local writers like Joshua Cohen, Travis Jeppesen, Louis Armand and Phil Shoenfelt. Check them out at www.twistedspoon.com


*Founded relatively recently in 2010 by local chess master David Vichnar, Equus Press has become the spearhead in a new wave of Prague experimental fiction. In addition to first-time translations of historical avant-garde texts, like Melchior Vischer’s Second Through Brain (originally published in 1920 as the “first Dada novel”) and Georges Bataille’s Louis XXX, Equus has put out work by Holly Tavel, Ken Nash, Damien Ober, Richard Makin, as well as two of the major indie novels of the last ten years published anywhere, Thor Garcia’s The News Clown and Louis Armand’s 900-page Prague novel, The Combinations. www.equuspress.com


*Litteraria Pragensia began in 1991 as a cultural theory journal edited by Martin Procházka at the Czech Academy of the Sciences and then, in 2002, started publishing an influential book series that has included the 1000-page anthology of Prague’s post-communist international literary renaissance, The Return of Král Majáles, as well as the definitive anthology of twentieth-century Prague poetry, From a Terrace in Prague, edited by Stephan Delbos. Litteraria has also published names like Slavoj Žižek, Iva Pekárková and Hélène Cixous, and this year are poised to release a major collection by local photography Robert Carrithers with contributions by William Capon, Lydia Lunch, Nick Zedd, Victor Bockris, Nick Cave and David Čern‎ý. www.litterariapragensia.com


*BODY magazine was established in 2010 by Chris Crawford with playwright Stephan Delbos, whose credits most recently include Deaf Empire by the Prague Shakespeare Company, and poet Joshua Mensch, whose debut collection, Because, is published this year by Norton in the US. An online magazine, BODY has published a wide range of local Prague and international writers, including Olga Stehliková, Justin Quinn, Anne Brechin, Ryan Scott and Katařína Rudčenková. www.bodyliterature.com


*VLAK, founded in 2010, is unlike any other print literary journal you’re likely to find anywhere, and boasts a world-class editorial board including Edmund Berrigan, Pam Brown, Louis Armand, David Vichnar, Olga Pek, Jane Lewty, Larry Sawyer, Stephen Mooney, Ali Alizadeh & Steven J. Fowler. Over five huge (600+ page) issues it has published experimental texts and visual art of extraordinary diversity, including work by Philippe Sollers, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lyn Hejinian, Vacláv Havel and Slavoj Žižek. VLAK also produces a book imprint under the guidance of Berlin poet Jeroen Nieuwland. www.vlakmagazine.com


*The Café Irreal first appeared in 1999 as a platform for irrealist writing in the tradition of Kafka and Prague surrealism, with regular translations of Czech writers. Edited by Alice Whittenburg and G.S. Evans, The Café Irreal has published work by Daniela Fischerová, Michal Ajvaz, D. Harlan Wilson, Ladislav Novák, Richard Kostelanetz and Michael Stein. www.cafeirreal.com


*The Word Addict is a local English-language literary zine edited by Jaromir Lelek, which – in its five issues to date – has published work by both established and up-and-coming writers, including Damien Ober, Thor Garcia, Ken Nash, Vít Bohal and Angie Siljanoska. https://www.facebook.com/thewordaddict/


*With the decline of the annual Prague Writers Festival, the Prague Microfestival has, during the last decade, become the city’s most dynamic and international literary festival, boasting a strong grass-roots in the Prague cultural scene, and has featured writers and artists such as Carla Harryman, Vanessa Place, Jachým Topol, Michal Ajvaz, Trevor Joyce, Sean Bonney, Pam Brown, Barrett Watten, Catherine Walsh, Donna Stonecipher, Richard Tipping and Boris Novák. Directed by Olga Pek, David Vichnar, Aljaž Koprivnikar and Louis Armand, the ninth instalment of the festival will take place this May 18-21 at the International Arts Centre Prague. www.praguemicrofestival.com


*Founded in 2002 by Laura Conway, the Alchemy Reading and Performance Series is the longest running invitational + open mic series in the city, and successsor to the ’90s legendary Beaf Stew. During its 15 year history, Alchemy has been hosted by a succession of Prague writers Patrick Seguin, Kirsten Weights, Jim Freeman, Chris Crawford, Bonita Rhoads, Ken Nash. Ken is the author of Alchemy’s name, logo and much of Alchemy’s concept. He also regularly participates in the open mic. Alchemy is currently hosted by Scott Nixon. www.facebook.com/alchemyprague


*The newly formed International Arts Centre is a non-profit organisation responsible for the curation, documenting and presentation of a diverse cultural programme representative of Prague’s international arts community and diaspora abroad, through regular exhibitions, performances, public lectures, film screenings, an on-site archive and a publication series directed at a local and international audience. The IAC is founded on the premise that Prague is a unique and significant centre of international cultural production. www.facebook.com/IACPrague/


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