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Renowned Czech writer, Holocaust survivor visits campus

Oct. 22, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A leading Czech figure who has distinguished himself both in literature and politics will make public appearances in Kalamazoo at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College the week of Oct. 26.

Both appearances by Arnost Lustig, professor emeritus of literature at American University in Washington, D.C., are free and open to the public and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the author.

Lustig will present a reading of his work at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28, in WMU's Little Theater, on the corner of Oakland Drive and Oliver Street, as part of the Gwen Frostic Reading Series sponsored by the University's Creative Writing Program.

He also will appear at a showing of his documentary, "The Fighter," at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, in Kalamazoo College's Dalton Theater, which is housed in the Light Fine Arts building on the corner of Academy and Thompson streets.

"The Fighter" follows Lustig and Jan Weiner on a road trip into the past. Both men are survivors of Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia who went on to become respected U.S. university professors. They return to Europe with filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev on what Bar-Lev envisions as a historical documentary but soon becomes the personal story of the battle between two men who have very different ways of dealing with memories of the Holocaust.

The documentary has been hailed by critics nationwide and has won numerous awards at major film festivals around the world, including Best Documentary prizes at the Galway and Newport festivals.

Lustig writes novels, short stories, plays and screenplays; helped found the much-celebrated Czech New Wave cinema in the 1960s; and is an original faculty member of WMU's Prague Summer Program.

The Prague program offers courses in creative writing, culture and social studies, Czech language, and photography and draws on the talents of some of the finest writers, poets, playwrights, visual artists and scholars from America and Central Europe. Lustig has taught or lectured for the program every year since it was founded in 1993.

"Arnost Lustig, a celebrity star in the Czech Republic, is a staple on trendy Czech talk shows, as well as on children's TV puppet shows," says Professor Richard Katrovas, Prague Summer Program director, adding that Lustig is the heart and soul of program he directs.

"He is beloved for his fiction, which chronicles love and passion, even redemption, in the midst of that Hell which was the Holocaust. Utterly void of sentimentality, with a cold eye on the darkest regions of the human heart, Arnost Lustig testifies that love and decency don't die even in the midst of the worst horrors humankind may perpetrate and suffer."

Lustig is a survivor of the Theresienstadt, Buchenwald and Auschwitz concentration camps, and has made the Holocaust the exclusive subject of his fiction. In 1945, he jumped from a train carrying him to Dachau and escaped into the woods as others were being machine-gunned.

He returned to Prague, where he participated in the May 1945 anti-Nazi uprising. After the war, Lustig joined the Communist Party and became a journalist. He became one of the major critics of the Communist regime, giving up his party membership in 1967. Following the Soviet-led invasion that ended the Prague Spring in 1968, he left Czechoslovakia, moving first to Israel, then to Yugoslavia and finally the United States. After the fall of eastern and central European communism in 1989, he divided his time between Prague and Washington, D.C.

Lustig became a full-time resident of Prague after retiring from American University in 2003. He was honored in that city on his 80th birthday in 2006 for his contributions to Czech culture. The same year, WMU granted him and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, honorary doctorates.

Just this year, Lustig became only the eighth recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize. He has received the Carl Capek Award, one of Central Europe's most prestigious literary awards; made the short list for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and received an Emmy as well as an award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

Lustig's visit is being sponsored by Kalamazoo College and WMU's College of Arts and Sciences, Creative Writing Program and Haenicke Institute for Global Education. For more information contact Margaret von Steinen in the Haenicke Institute at (269) 387-5890.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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