WMU News

Prague creative writing program now calls WMU home

Dec. 12, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University has taken the reins of a premier summer creative writing program conducted in the Czech Republic.

The Prague Summer Program, which is the new moniker for what writers and those in literary circles have known for the last decade as the Prague Summer Seminars, has officially become a program of Western Michigan University. WMU will administer the 2002 Prague Summer Program that next convenes in July 2002.

The Prague Summer Program is an annual, intensive creative writing study abroad experience that gives approximately 100 writers the opportunity to be closely mentored by some of the biggest literary names from the United States and Central and Eastern Europe. Participants travel to Prague for two- and four- week periods, during which they work with established writers. Such luminaries as Grace Paley, Stuart Dybek, Amy Tan and Gerald Stern have been guest writers for the program.

The program moved to WMU from the University of the New Orleans, where it had been administered since its creation in 1992. The program's director, poet and writer Richard Katrovas, will follow in fall 2002.

"The Prague Summer Program is one of the preeminent programs of its type in the arts world," says Dr. Elise Jorgens, dean of the WMU College of Arts and Sciences. "Some of the most promising writers and established authors take part in the program, and it has grown in stature, not only nationally, but also internationally. We are very pleased to have it as part of our college."

The University has signed a partnership agreement with Charles University in Prague to offer the Prague Summer Program in that university's facilities. Charles University has been the Prague location for the summer program since it began, and the program often "borrows" the university's faculty members to teach some of the Czech culture and literature classes.

"This is not simply a study abroad opportunity," says Katrovas. "Prominent writers present and do workshops, and there is a lecture series in Czech culture and language. We want to give the program's participants an opportunity to think about being a writer in a culture other than their own. Prague is considered a hub of European literary culture and has been home or inspiration to such writers as Goethe, Franz Kafka, Vaclav Havel and Ivan Klima. Its remarkable history and culture is truly inspiring."

Katrovas is the author of five books of poetry; the nonfiction book, "The Republic of Burma Shave"; and a novel, "Mystic Pig." He says his deep love and admiration for the city of Prague was fostered during his time there as a Fulbright fellow more than a decade ago. He and his wife, Dominika Winterova, a Czech native with a doctoral degree from Charles University, have administered the Prague Summer Program since its inception. Katrovas oversees the academic aspects, while Winterova uses her knowledge and contacts in Prague to set up the facilities, activities and Czech-oriented courses.

"We are fortunate to have someone as enterprising as Richard Katrovas coming to WMU," says Dr. Arnold "Arnie" Johnston, chairperson of WMU's Department of English. "He's not just a great academic entrepreneur. He's a widely published poet and author. We are delighted not only that we are gaining Richard as a member of our faculty, but his wife, Dominika, as well, who is the program's coordinator in Prague."

At WMU, the Prague Summer Program will have its academic home in the Department of English, where curriculum and faculty matters will be conducted, while such administrative tasks as registration and budget will be handled by the Office of Study Abroad in the University's Diether H. Haenicke Institute of International and Area Studies. Kim Peters, an alumna of WMU's creative writing MFA program, will serve as the program's WMU coordinator.

Dr. James Butterfield, associate director of the Haenicke Institute, says the institute hopes to see the Prague Summer Program expand beyond creative writing.

"The top priority will be creative writing, but the Prague Summer Program could become a Central and Eastern European area studies program that would be interdisciplinary, combining courses in geography, language and culture," says Butterfield, who heads new program development for the Haenicke Institute. "There are two things that make such an expansion feasible. First, there's the economy of scale where both programs can be run administratively from the same office, and there is a point of intersection between the cultural and language curriculum of the creative writing program and the area studies classes."

Katrovas agrees with Butterfield's vision. "Creative writing is at the heart of the program, but there is no reason why it can't be a broad-based humanities program," he says. "Our relationship with Charles University would certainly facilitate that and opens the doors for other opportunities for us."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 269 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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