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Twisted Spoon Press

PO Box 21 - Preslova 12, 150 00 Prague 5, Czech Republic

Walter Serner

Read more about Urzidil
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  johannes urzidil

Johannes Urzidil was born on February 3, 1896, in Prague, the son of a German-speaking railroad official and a Jewish mother, who died before his fourth birthday. His father eventually remarried a Czech woman. Raised a Catholic, Urzidil grew up in the working-class, predominantly Czech district of Žižkov, and not in the more affluent neighborhoods of his German-speaking Prague contemporaries. While a student at the humanist “Graben-Gymnasium” in Prague from 1906 to 1914, Urzidil published his first poems in the Prager Tagblatt newspaper under the pseudonym Hans Elmar. It was at this time that through an older classmate he met and befriended Max Brod, Franz Kafka, Willy Haas, Franz Werfel, Oskar Baum, Egon Erwin Kisch and other literary figures of the Prague Circle who regularly met in the city’s coffeehouses. Enrolled at Prague University from 1914 to 1919, where he studied German, Slavic languages, and Art History, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army intermittently during WWI as a warehouse administrator. Between 1918-39 he worked as a correspondent, reporting on literature, theater, and culture for German-language Czech dailies such as the Prager Tagblatt and Bohemia, while penning political articles for Berlin-based periodicals such as the Berlin Börsen-Courier, Wolffsche Telegraphenbureau, Das Tagebuch, Neue Rundschau, and Zeitschrift für Politik and serving as editor of the periodical Der Mensch. His first book of poetry, Sturz der Verdammten [1919; Fall of the Damned], was influenced by Expressionism.

In 1922, he married Gertrude Thieberger, a Jewish poet whose brother was Kafka’s Hebrew teacher and father an orthodox rabbi. At Kafka’s funeral memorial in 1924, Urzidil was one of three to deliver an oration as a representative of the younger generation of German-Jewish Prague writers. He remained closely connected to a number of Czech and German literary and artistic circles throughout the 1920s and 30s, working during this period as a translator for the German Embassy in Prague and, from 1922 to 1934, as its press attaché, before being dismissed for racial reasons. In the following years he spent much of his time away from the city, seeking refuge instead in the Bohemian countryside. In June 1939, Urzidil – now on the Gestapo’s wanted list – and his wife fled occupied Czechoslovakia with forged passports, emigrating to London via Italy, and continuing on to New York in 1941. Eventually settling on Long Island, Urzidil earned a meager salary as a correspondent for Czech exile newspapers and became an American citizen in 1946. In 1951, he began working for the Austrian office of the Voice of America as a script writer and information specialist, later for the Munich office of Radio Free Europe, positions he held on and off for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1950s he began publishing prose fiction, first in Germany, then in Switzerland. His literary breakthrough came in 1956 with Der verlorene Geliebte [The Lost Beloved], followed by his masterpiece Prager Triptychon [The Prague Triptych] in 1960. He continued to publish prolifically until his death in Rome on November 2, 1970, while on his seventh and last lecture tour of Europe. He is buried at Campo Santo Teutonico in the Vatican.

Urzidil received a number of awards and honors during his lifetime, including the Charles Veillon Prize of the City of Lausanne (1957), the Literature Prize of the City of Cologne (1964), the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature (1964), and the Andreas Gryphius Prize (1966). He was made an honorary professor of the Republic of Austria in 1961 and was inducted into the German Academy for Language and Poetry in Darmstadt as a corresponding member in 1962.


published by TSP:

House of the Nine Devils
Selected Bohemian Tales

The Prague Triptych [forthcoming]

also by the author:
The Last Bell

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