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September 17, 1993
Pegasus Prize-Winning Author Martin Simecka To Read at Library of Congress October 21
Slovak author Martin Simecka will read from his Pegasus Prize- winning novel, The Year of the Frog, in a special program co- sponsored by the Library of Congress's Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and Mobil Corporation. Mr. Simecka will read from his novel in its original Slovak; actor Teman Treadway will read from the English translation. The program will be on Thursday, October 21, at 8 p.m in the Mumford Room of the Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave., S.E. Tickets are not required.
Martin Simecka is the son of Milan Simecka, a leading political scientist and dissident who was imprisoned by the Czechoslovak government in the 1980s. As a result, Martin Simecka became a perennial suspect: "I lived in the well-known environment of bugged apartments and telephones and was closely watched by the secret police," he recalls. He was banned from attending the university in Bratislava, where he was born in 1957. Mr. Simecka spent his military service in what he describes as "a kind of forced isolation" and later held a succession of menial jobs. His writing was also banned in Czechoslovakia but was published in underground "samizdat" editions until the demise of the communist regime in 1990. His first novel, The Year of the Frog, is an autobiographical account of that time. The book was finally published commercially in Czechoslovakia in 1990 by Archa, a publishing house that Mr. Simecka helped establish in 1989 and of which he is currently editor in chief.
The novel's most basic question, wrote a reviewer in France's Bulletin des Lettres, is, "What do you do when you're 23 years old, when the government prevents you from continuing your education, and you're living in Bratislava during the '80s, surrounded by the dullness, mediocrity, and anonymity of communism? Under these conditions what meaning does life have?" The Year of the Frog is described by L'express of Paris as "a melody that manages to be devastating and lighthearted at once. . . . [The] writer is someone who will . . . become as well known in the West as Milan Kundera or Marguerite Duras." A Kirkus Reviews essay called it "a strikingly realistic, insightful portrayal of human strength and frailty."
In November of 1989, Mr. Simecka co-founded Public Against Violence, which generated support for Czechoslovakia's 1990 "velvet revolution." In June 1992, he became chairman of the Slovak center of PEN International. Mr. Simecka has published essays, political articles, a book of short stories, and a collection of his father's letters from prison. He is a regular commentator on Central European events for the BBC, Duetsche Welle, and other European media. He lives in Bratislava with his wife, Marta, and their two children, Michael and Julia.
Teman Treadway, who visited the Library of Congress in 1991, when he read from Jia Pingwa's novel Turbulence, winner of the 1988 Pegasus Prize, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. His stage credits include the role of Bob Cratchit in "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre. His television credits include the Emmy-winning "Murder of Mary Phagan," "The Mitch Snyder Story," "Unsolved Mysteries," "Another World," and "Loving." He has appeared in the feature films "Broadcast News" and "No Way Out." He is also a poet and author.
Mobil Corporation awards the Pegasus Prize to distinguished works from countries whose literature is rarely translated into English. The prize includes a monetary award, a medal, and translation into English and subsequent publication of the work by Louisiana State University Press. Since Mobil introduced the prize in 1977, it has been awarded in Egypt, Denmark, the Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, New Zealand (for Maori literature), Indonesia, Norway, China, and Turkey.
In each country awarding the Pegasus Prize, the selection is made by a panel of the country's most distinguished literary figures. The Year of the Frog was selected by a jury of Czechs and Slovaks chaired by essayist and human rights activist Lucvik Vaculik.
The Year of the Frog, which was translated into English by Peter Petro, is the first Slovak novel published in the United States in this decade. Through the Pegasus Prize, Mobil Corporation and LSU Press seek to broaden public awareness of the literature and culture of Slovakia.
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