Prague Writers' Festival opening in Pittsburgh; first time in U.S.

E.L. Doctorow among writers on roster; Czech government delegation on hand, too

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author E.L. Doctorow will be in Pittsburgh on Friday to open the Prague Writers' Festival, an international gathering of book writers, poets and playwrights that is meeting for the first time in the United States, let alone outside of Europe.

Also in town is a delegation of officials from the Czech Republic who will mark the 95th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Agreement, which paved the way for the creation of Czechoslovakia. Signed in 1918 by a group of Czechs and Slovaks in the former Moose Hall, Downtown, the pact was based on a speech by President Woodrow Wilson to the U.S. Congress that became the basis for World War I peace negotiations.

The writers festival, running Friday and Saturday, is being hosted by Point Park University. Events are free to the public. Schedule and registration information can be found at Point Park's website (pointpark.edu).

Mr. Doctorow, author of "Ragtime" and "Loon Lake" among other titles, will appear at 7 p.m. on Friday in the University Center's GRW Auditorium, 414 Wood St. He will read from his forthcoming novel, "Andrew's Brain," to be published in January. A reception will follow.

Among the other featured writers are Indian novelist Anita Desai; Eda Kriseova, author of "Vaclav Havel: The Authorized Biography"; and Egyptian writer Hamdy El-Gazzar, author of "Our Revolution: Stories to Fit in the Palm of Your Hand."

"The writers' festival does a great service to people concerned with freedom, literature and happiness, which are all linked together," said Channa Newman, Point Park professor and director of the university's global cultural studies program. She has also been the festival's director of international programs for the past four years.

"It brings writers to audiences who may not have encountered them before, which is also a great service," she added. "This will offer our community a rare opportunity to interact with internationally known writers in a personal and meaningful way."

Previous festivals have featured the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, William Styron, Derek Walcott and Nadine Gordimer.

The annual event began as a poetry reading in London, organized by Michael March, an American, to showcase the works of Eastern bloc writers caught behind the Iron Curtain. With the fall of communism, the festival expanded its scope and moved to Prague in 1991, where it runs for four days every April, with Mr. March still at the helm. This is the first time an additional event has been organized beyond the April festival, and the historical connection made Pittsburgh a natural location.

The Czech delegation will make several stops during a five-day visit. One will be at the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms, with director Maxine Bruhns hosting them at the Czechoslovak Nationality Room. Dedicated in 1939, the room represents the work of the city's Czech and Slovak communities.

Officials also will tour the Sen. John Heinz History Center and its permanent exhibit featuring the Pittsburgh Agreement. There will also be a breakfast with members of Allegheny County's business community at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Among the guests will be Milan Stech, president of the Czech Senate; Petr Gandalovic, ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States; Vaclav Homolka, a member of the Czech Parliament; and 12 representatives of the Czech Chamber of Commerce.

books - neigh_city

Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1610. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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