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WMU honors Czech literary and political icons

March 10, 2006

KALAMAZOO--The Western Michigan University Board of Trustees has voted to award honorary degrees to two leading Czech figures, who have distinguished themselves both in literature and politics.

Acting at their March 9 meeting, trustees approved awarding honorary degrees to Vaclav Havel and Arnost Lustig. The honorary degrees stem from the two leaders' association with the Prague Summer Program, the premiere summer creative writing program in the Czech Republic, which WMU has administered since 2002.

Havel is one of the most revered and celebrated cultural and political figures of modern times. He is the recipient of numerous national and international honors, including the Freedom Medal from the president of the United States, and has been on the short list several times for the Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature.

Many consider Havel the father of his country. He was its first president and in 1989 led what he termed the Velvet Revolution, the bloodless movement that led to the republic's independence and peaceful dissociation with the Slovaks. One of the most celebrated dissidents of his generation, Havel spent several years in communist prisons and was routinely harassed through the 1970s and '80s when not in prison.

A playwright of international renown, Havel is the author of such major works for the stage as "The Memorandum," "A Hotel in the Hills," "Protest," "Mistake," "Largo Desolato," "Temptation" and "Redevelopment." He also has written many essays, and his "Letters to Olga," the collected letters to his wife from prison, is considered an epistolary masterpiece.

Lustig also is no stranger to the WMU program, formerly the Prague Summer Seminars, and has been on its faculty for each of its 13 years in existence. Lustig is professor of film and literature at American University in Washington, D.C. A founder of the much-celebrated Czech New Wave cinema in the 1960s, he is the author of numerous stories and 14 books, five of which were made into films in the Czech Republic.

Lustig also opposed the communist government's anti-Israeli policies in 1967 and was proclaimed an "enemy of the people" and "part of the Zionist conspiracy." He subsequently lived in Israel, and then immigrated to the United States. Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, he has split his time between the Czech Republic and the United States.

A survivor of Theresienstadt, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, Lustig has made the Holocaust the exclusive subject of his fiction. He writes about the humanity of the dehumanized, the courage of the terrorized and the possibility of moral triumph in the face of fear and humiliation. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages. Those available in English include "A Prayer for Katerina Horowitzova," "Night and Hope," "Darkness Casts No Shadow," "Diamonds of the Night," "The Unloved" and "Lovely Green Eyes."

Lustig has received the Carl Capek Award, one of Central Europe's most prestigious literary awards, and also has been on the short list for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition, he is the recipient of an award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters and an Emmy.

The honorary degrees will be presented to the two men in Prague on July 3.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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