Memorial service to be held for literary lion Josef Skvorecky

Image of Professor Josef Skvorecky
Monday, September 17, 2012 - 10:45am
Jane Stirling

A memorial service for internationally renowned writer and former Erindale College professor Josef Skvorecky, who passed away earlier this year, will be held Thursday, Sept. 27, at 2:30 p.m., in the Great Hall of Hart House. 

Skvorecky, who used a fictionalized Erindale College setting in one of his most famous novels, died Jan. 3.  The Engineer of Human Souls (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1984) is set in the sheltered world of “Edenvale College” in Toronto and won the Governor General’s Award for English Language Fiction in 1984.

Retired professor Sam Solecki of U of T’s English department, along with Skvorecky’s widow Zdena and retired drama professor Michal Schonberg, is organizing the memorial service. Speakers will include the Czech ambassador to Canada, publishers and Skvorecky’s colleagues and friends. A testimonial written by the late Czech president Václav Havel will also be read.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Skvorecky’s international standing is as high as that of anyone in the humanities at the University of Toronto. His books have received literary prizes in Canada, the United States and Europe, and he was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize,” Solecki notes.

A dissident writer who fled to Canada from Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion in 1968, Skvorecky, along with his wife, founded 68 Publishers. The imprint became an important vehicle for dissident writers such as Havel, and Milan Kundera whose work The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was made into a movie.

Skvorecky taught fiction, creative writing and film in the Faculty of Arts and Science on the Erindale College campus from 1971 until his retirement in 1990. Solecki, a colleague, wrote Prague Blues: The Fiction of Josef Skvorecky.

Among his many awards, Skvorecky won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the Order of the White Lion, presented by Czechoslovakia president Havel. He was named a member of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.