Born 1924 in Náchod, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, he graduated in 1943 from the Reálné gymnasium in his native town. As part of Josef Goebbel's Totaleinsatz scheme, he spent the next two years as a slave labourer in a German aircraft factory.
After World War Two he studied at Charles University in Prague, and received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1952. In 1952 - 1954 he served in the Czechoslovak army, then held editorial jobs in the Odeon Publishing House. His first novel, The Cowards, written in 1948-49 was not published until 1958, immediately condemned by the Communist party, banned and seized by the police. According to many critics, this novel marks the beginning of the end of socialist realism in Czech literature. Škvorecký then published several other books and wrote scripts for feature films.
After the Soviet ambush in 1968 Škvorecký and his wife left for Canada where he continued writing novels, and taught in the Department of English, University of Toronto until his retirement in 1990.
In 1971 Škvorecký and his wife, writer and actress Zdena Salivarová, founded the Sixty-Eight Publishers, Corp. which for over twenty years kept publishing banned Czech and Slovak books. For this, the president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia Václav Havel awarded them the Order of the White Lion. In 1992 Škvorecvký was appointed to the Order of Canada.
Among his numerous literary awards, the most important are the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1980), the Canadian Governor General's Aaward for Best Fiction (1984), the Czech Republic State Prize for Literature (1999) and the Prize of the Comenius Pangea Foundation “For Improvement of Human Affairs” (2001) which he received with the Polish film director Andrzej Wajda.
Most of his books are awailable in English: the novels The Cowards, Miss Silver's Past, The Republic of Whores, The Miracle Game, The Swell Season, The Engineer of Human Souls, The Bride of Texas, Dvorak in Love, The Tenor Saxophonist's Story, Two Murders in My Double Life, An Inexpliocable Story or The Narrative of Questus Firmus Siculus, his selected short stories When Eve Was Naked and the two short novels The Bass Saxophone and Emöke. He also wrote four books of detective fiction featuring Lieutenant Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau :The Mournful Demeanor of Ltn. Boruvka, Sins for Father Knox, The End of Ltn. Boruvka and The Return of Ltn. Boruvka.
His poetry, both published and unpublished, has been brought out in 1999 as ...there's no remedy for this pain .
With his friend, the poet Jan Zábrana, Škvorecký published three more detective novels, Murder for Luck, Murder by Proxy and Guaranteed Murder and a novel for children Tanya and the Two Gunmen (not available in English).
With his wife, the novelist Zdena Salivarova he published (in Czech onlz, so far) three crime novels, Brief Encoounter, with Murder; Encounter After Many Years, with Murder and Encounter at the End of an Era, with Murder.
Škvorecký also published several volumes of short stories; a selection of them was published in English as When Eve Was Naked.
His non-fiction works include Talkin' Moscow Blues, a book of essays on jazz, literature and politics, an autobiography Headed for the Blues, two books on the Czech cinema, All the Bright Young Men and Women and Jirí Menzel and the History of the "Closely Watched Trains"
Škvorecký extensively wrote for films and television. The feature film The Tank Battalion, adapted from his novel The Republic of Whores, was the first Czech film made not by the Barrandov State Studios but by a private company, The Bonton Films; it was the biggest box-office success since the fall of communism. Other features, written for Prague TV, include Eine kleine Jazzmusik, adapted from his story of the same name,The Emöke Legend from a novella of the same name, and a two-hour TV drama Poe and the Murder of a Beautiful Girl, based on the murder of Mary Rogers of New York which Poe had used for his story "The Mystery of Marie Roget". Three very successful TV serials were made from his stories: Sins for Father Knox, The Swell Season and Murders for Luck.
Josef Škvorecký and his wife lived in Toronto, Canada. He passed away on 3rd January.
1924 — 2012
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writer, exile publisher