Archive 2009

born November 10, 1938 in Pardubice, is a Czech poet, writer, essayist and translator from the German (e.g. of Kafka and Rilke). His studies in literature and philosophy at the Charles University in Prague were completed with a doctorate in 1962. In 1964, together with Václav Havel, he founded Czechoslovakia’s first independent literary journal Tvař, soon to be suppressed by the authorities. Another independent journal, Sešity, founded the following year by Gruša, one of the key persons of the Prague Spring 1968, survived until 1969, when further activity was prohibited as a result of the publication of excerpts from Gruša’s novel Mimner.
Repeatedly imprisoned, Gruša had a formal publishing ban and was forced to labour as a construction worker. In 1977 he joined the anticommunist group Charta 77 and co-founded Edice Petlice, the most important independent publishing house in Czechoslovakia. After the publication of his first novel Dotazník aneb modlitba za jedno město a přítele (Questionnaire, or a Prayer for a Certain City and Friend; Polish edition 1987, 2003), he was arrested. Owing to the intervention of Heinrich Böll, Gruša was offered a choice: prison or exile. In 1980, having received a scholarship, he left for a university the United States. A year later, just before his return, his Czechoslovak citizenship was revoked. On coming back to Europe in 1981, he settled in Bonn, earning his living with translations and various literary jobs. He became a German citizen in 1983. Following the collapse of the Eastern bloc, he became Czech Ambassador to Germany and later, in the years 1998-2004, he served as Ambassador to Austria.
Gruša is the president of the Independent Culture Documentation Centre, a member of the German Academy of Language and Literature and the European Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary member of the Danube and Central Europe Institute. Since 2003 he has been the president of International PEN and since 2005, the director of the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, where he currently lives.
In the years 1962-1972 he published four books of poems: Torna, Světlá lhůta, Cvičení mučení and Modlitba k Janince, subsequently focusing on the novel (Dotazník…, 1975; Dámský gambit, 1978; Dr. Kokeš Mistr Panny, 1983). He edited anthologies of independent poetry and a dictionary of Czech writers. His volumes of poetry written in German, Der Babylonwald (1991) and Wandersteine (1994), were awarded the prestigious Andreas Gryphius Prize; for the volume Grušas Wacht am Rhein aneb Putovni getto (2001) he received the Seifert Prize and the highest of Czech honours, Magnesia Litera.