prized-skvorecky-a-swell1-season-signed

Signed in my presence …
by D.A. Pratt

Two things about the moment are still very much alive in my memory: first, my amazement that Josef Skvorecky’s reading in Regina was scheduled for a regular classroom at the University and, secondly, my amazement that I was the only one who approached him afterwards with a book to sign … as he complied with my request, little did I know that he would become my “favourite living writer” …

Before going to the reading, I had begun reading the Penguin edition of his novel entitled The Cowards … I had purchased the book more or less “just because” … he sounded exotic and I liked the art on the cover (Penguins were like this at that time) … however I opted to take the hardcover copy of The Swell Season to the reading … later I would learn that the stories in this collection essentially complemented the story portrayed in the novel …

When I stepped out of the line of people leaving the room to ask him to sign my book for me, I was able to tell him that I was reading The Cowards and that I was enjoying it … as he signed and dated the book, he responded that he hoped I would “continue to enjoy” …

I indeed did “continue to enjoy” … I became an avid reader (and collector) of his writing … years later I would write a long fan letter to him and he responded both graciously and generously … anyway, it all started when I went to that reading – the book he signed in my presence represents a “moment” and in many ways it is more than just a prized possession!

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The concept of a “prized possession” is fairly foreign to me … however, upon reflection, the copy of The Swell Season signed by Josef Skvorecky in my presence when he visited Regina in 1983 probably comes as close as anything to qualifying for this title …¶ Reading Skvorecky’s works (many feature the continuing story of Danny, perhaps an “alter ego”) opened the door for me to Czech writing in general: reading The Cowards and The Swell Season led me to Milan Kundera (I really enjoyed The Unbearable Lightness of Being) … also Ivan Klima and Bohumil Hrabal … and Vaclav Havel (his nonfiction writing has really spoken to me over the years as well as his life’s story) … I’ll also mention Zdena Salivarova (I enjoyed her novel Summer in Prague) – she’s now Skvorecky’s widow … together they created 68 Publishers after they moved to Canada … Skvorecky’s novel entitled The Engineer of Human Souls was a “reading experience” that I did not want to end (the book is partly set in Canada) … ¶ When we visited Prague in 1999, I bought Czech language editions of both The Cowards and The Swell Season … I even bought a copy of one of his novels that has yet to be published in English – its presence in the “Czech literature” part of my book collection still tempts me to undertake a most unlikely undertaking (I went to Prague knowing just “twenty words of Czech”) … ¶ Anyway, it all began with that reading at the University of Regina in 1983 … as he signed the book for me in that classroom I had no idea how important his writing would become to me … my memory of that magical moment is still very much alive … the book he signed that day symbolizes more than anyone could ever realize …

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: D.A. (David) Pratt “continues to continue” in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, although he sees himself as an outsider within what he considers a comfortably conventional community – this is reflected in his self portrait poem published by Silver Birch Press in 2014.