Václav Havel

Václav Havel, Prague, Czech Republic, 1993 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Václav Havel  (1936-2011) was a Czech statesman, playwright, and, interestingly, former dissident. He served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 until its dissolution  in 1992 and then as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He was the first democratically elected president of either country after the Fall of Communism. He was also a well-respected writer, known for his plays, essays, and memoirs, and, as such, holds an important place in the history of 20th century Czech literature.

Václav Havel was born on this day

From his introduction (warm, friendly, prefatory note) to the collection, Allen Ginsberg – Spontaneous Mind – Selected Interviews 1958-1996:

I first met Allen Ginsberg at the renowned student May Day festival at which he was elected king (Kral Majales). After that I participated in one of the private gatherings with him in a Prague apartment. Then I had the luck to see him in Viola, a poet’s cafe and I believe it must have been at the moment when the notorious theft of his notebook took place. Not far from me Ginsberg was sharing a table with some young friends, and he seemed to be constantly occupied in looking for something all around the table space. I gather it must have been the notebook he was missing – that was very likely as right next to his table there was a seated group of men with the undeniable appearance of plainclothesmen, who must have stolen it then or a while earlier. Later, after 1989, when I had become president, I had the opportunity to see Ginsberg a few times. A couple of times we went to a pub together, and I also went to see his performance at the Chmelnice theater hall.
I have always held the poet in great esteem. I truly appreciated his “Howl when I was a young man, and I was, of course, deeply moved by what I felt to be his untimely death. I have also greatly cherished his sophistication, his intellectual power, and his scope of vision.

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