Faculty Spotlight: Sandra Dyas

The Prague Summer Program is excited to welcome a new faculty member into our photography program, Sandra Dyas.

From the Director, Richard Katrovas:

Sandra Dyas will join Jan Pohribny to form the Prague Summer Program’s new photography unit. What I find so exciting about this team is how starkly the two artists contrast: Jan’s work embodies multiple dream worlds that quaver just beyond the Bohemia landscapes as well as the bustling cityscapes of his at once ancient and wholly-in-the-moment Prague.  Many of Sandra’s images seem to emerge from the cornfields of Iowa; they are starkly, unapologetically of the American heartland. Jan’s work captures Bohemian dreams; Sandra’s captures, and celebrates, American dreamers. Both love their art profoundly, and relish teaching technique, as well as everything beyond the realm of technique.

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Sandra also took the time to answer a few questions from Shana Wolstein, PSP Assistant, through email:

PSP: Not all creative people are born teachers, how did you find your way into becoming a teacher? What’s your favorite part of teaching?

SD: A big reason I actively enjoy teaching is because I know that I can change a person’s life by encouraging and mentoring them. You can make a difference by how you teach. I can sense that certain students are drawn naturally to art and then they find photography and it just opens them up. It is so rewarding to see a student find something they connect with. I like sharing the passion I have for art. I also enjoy pushing students to develop into themselves—to grow. It is really the most fun job someone can have—to teach. Yes, it is really challenging in many ways and sometimes very exhausting but worth the effort. I feel like I am growing too. It is never the same, it is always changing.

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AWP 2013 Boston

Friends, colleagues, and future PSP-ers alike, many of us are getting ready for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference, commonly referred to as AWP. This year we’ll be meeting in Boston and the Prague Summer Program is proud to announce we have to events for you to look forward to in addition to our presence in the Bookfair.

“Stalking the Golem: The Prague Summer Program’s 20th Anniversay” will be a celebration of the PSP’s 20th anniversary. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Prague Summer Program, faculty and former students discuss the relation of the study-abroad experience to the pedagogy of creative writing. Each panelist–Jaimy Gordon, T. Geronimo Johnson, Melinda Moustakis, and Robert Eversz–will speak anecdotally about what the PSP means to him or her, and broadly about the value of the study-abroad experience.The panel discusses the evolution of the structure of the PSP, as well as the institutional interface, over time, between American institutions and the foreign entities with whom they partner. We explore how such programs as the PSP serve as points of confluence for American and host literary cultures. This is set to take place at 10:30 on Friday in Room 308, Level 3.

“Yoga and the Life of the Writer” is about Yoga and the writer’s often sedentary life; Krista Katrovas will be joined by Melissa Pritchard, Pam Uschuk, Suzanne Roberts, and Andrea England who will give brief testimonials regarding Yoga practices and discuss how meditation as well as physical aspects of Yoga enhance writing/reading lives. Her panel will also touch on meditation and spirituality.  The session concludes with demonstrations of chanting and chair Yoga, the latter offering practical, safe techniques, for counteracting the effects of sitting still for long periods. The audience is encouraged to participate. Career status is irrelevant to this panel, which will consist of writers/Yoginis at different stages of their careers. This is set to take place at 10:30 on Friday in Room 313, Level 3.

Finally, please find us at the bookfair! We look forward to seeing your faces in Boston!

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Travis Cebula’s “My Arrival in Prague”

Travis Cebula is the Pavel Šrut Fellow from 2011. He worked with both Linda Gregerson and Jan Pohribny. He wrote to us with this Creative Non-fiction piece he wrote while attending the Prague Summer Program!

My Arrival in Prague

At 6 AM on a cold June morning and with a ridiculously over-packed suitcase jouncing along behind me, I crossed the street to the lobby of the Hotel Residence des Arts for a cup of café créme. And this was where I waited for the taxi I’d arranged to come pick me up for the airport. All went smoothly, with both the coffee and the arranged pick-up (which is not my normal luck) and the driver was just fast enough and skilled enough that I wanted to send him home to provide my wife with a chauffeur to and from work. He also looked a bit like Ashton Kutcher, which I figured would go a short way toward an apology for my wandering Europe, writing, while she was working her face off in a Family Medicine clinic back in Colorado. The taxi driver asked me where I was flying out of, and I told him, “Charles de Gaulle Terminal 3. Smart Wings.” That’s what I thought it was, anyway. “Smart Wings?” “Yes, Smart Wings. Terminal 3.” “Okayyyyy.” And the doubtful pause after this word, a word that should have been an unequivocal assent, said a lot. Anyone who’s ever heard this before would agree—it was unlikely that any of the news that followed a pause like that was going to be good.

We pulled up outside Terminal 3 of CDG, which has all of the charm of my father-in-law’s World War II-era army-surplus Quonset hut in rural Wyoming, and is roughly the same size… The driver stopped the car and ratcheted the transmission to park. When he turned around he slid his sunglasses down his nose at me dubiously. “You sure this is the terminal?” “Well. I think so.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.” I said this with exaggerated confidence, even though I was becoming less and less sure by the moment.

“Hmmmmmmm.” Another one of those pauses, this time appraising me for reliability. Once up, once down. He turned back around, jabbed on the hazard blinkers, and started dialing manically on his cell phone—I assumed to find out if anyone trustworthy could verify the existence of an airline called “Smart Wings?” …and its location, if any. I didn’t consider this an auspicious beginning to my journey. Eventually he replaced his sunglasses on their previous perch atop his nose, which was the closest Gallic to approval I hoped to get. He climbed out of the car and struggled quietly with my bags, professional and dignified to the end. It was the correct terminal, and France, after all.

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Patricia Hampl’s Prague

It’s officially the middle of the week! Help combat the mid-week lull with more writing from one of our esteemed faculty members, Patricia Hampl!

Our director, Richard Katrovas, briefly describes Hampl’s deep connection to our program:

Patricia Hampl’s involvement with the Prague Summer Program began in the mid-90s. I’d read her beautiful and wise A Romantic Education and felt an immediate kinship. Besides being one of the most eloquent voices of a generation (and being affirmed as such by a big box of awards, not the least of which was a McArthur “genius” Grant), she has been a transcendent presence in the Prague Summer Program classrooms, lecture halls, and reading venues. Patricia’s connection to, her deep understanding of Prague’s history, and how that often-woeful story has created a people unique in European, indeed world history, has been a boon to the PSP community.

This thoughtful and transformative reflection of Prague and its history originally appeared in The Daily Beast.

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Alumni Spotlight: Erika Dreifus

We here at the Prague Summer Program know that we have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and that’s more than just our faculty! Our student participants are incredibly talented and we want to highlight that. So here is the first of what we hope to be a series of posts, the Prague Summer Program Alumni Spotlight.

Our first Alumni Spotlight is Erika Dreifus.  

Erika Dreifus, photo credit: Lisa Hancock

Erika Dreifus, photo credit: Lisa Hancock

Erika attended the program in 2004, with the assistance of a John Woods Scholarship, and was enrolled in our two-week fiction workshop with “the incomparable Arnošt Lustig,” who we are honoring this year, along with Vaclav Havel.

Dreifus noted that her favorite part of the experience was that:

It was truly an opportunity of a lifetime to get to know Arnošt. I have thought of him often since 2004, and I was deeply saddened when I learned of his passing

Since her participation in 2004, she has relocated from Massachusetts to New York City has published a book of short stories, Quiet Americans. She noted that “One of the stories in the book, ‘The Quiet American, Or How to Be a Good Guest,’ was sparked by a travel experience [she] had before returning home from the [Prague Summer Program] in 2004.”

She also edits and publishes a free newsletter, “The Practicing Writer,” which features resources and opportunities for fictionists poets, and writers of creative nonfiction.

Please visit her website www.erikadreifus.com to learn more.

Also, visit www.praguesummer.com to learn more about becoming a future PSP alumni or email us at prague(at)wmich.edu if you’d like to be our next Alumni Spotlight!

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Richard Katrovas’ “Czech, Italian, Mexican Cuisine”

from Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father (a memoir in essays) 

Czech, Italian, Mexican Cuisine

My daughters have grown up in the midst of writers, some famous, most not. Every summer of their lives they have witnessed their mother and me transform into the in-country coordinator and director, respectively, of a program that constitutes a community of a hundred to a hundred and fifty, mostly American, aspiring and established literati. During each year leading up to start time, the Saturday preceding the first Monday of July, they’ve heard essentially the same conversations between their mother and me, the same amicable, professional conflicts and conflict resolutions.

My ex-wife’s and my professional relationship is eerily unchanged from when we were married. The fact that we are so efficient at compartmentalization is perhaps, ironically, one reason our marriage failed, but that’s another matter. Suffice it to say that our failed marriage notwithstanding, our partnership, parental and professional, at least so far, thrives.

And the professional aspect of our partnership centers on annually mounting and executing (of course with the assistance of talented colleagues) an academic program that is entering its eighteenth year, and that resonates significantly in the far-flung, academic/cottage industry of creative writing.

On Sinkulova in Prague 4, near Vysehrad, the park on a hill overlooking the Vltava where the most ancient vestiges of Prague culture are commemorated, stands the five-story apartment building my ex-wife owns with her lawyer brother. Since the divorce, when the girls and I are in Prague I reside in an apartment on the PRIZAMI, the ground floor, and the three girls shuttle between my space and their mother’s on the fourth floor. The two older girls are not happy about the divorce (our five-year-old Ellie, alas, is oblivious), but are adjusting well in no small part because their mother and I have managed our rancor quite deftly.

And, indeed, the Prague Summer Program, our mutual investment that lies vaulted so much deeper than monetary necessity, an investment not unlike parenting, mitigates our rancor. Dominika’s ego investment in the Program has virtually nothing to do with art and pedagogy. Brilliant and insightful but void of artistic ambition and lacking much aesthetic sense, she relishes managing the infrastructure of the program, making the proverbial trains run on time, which she does exceedingly well. My own ego investment is more complex, precisely because of my ambition.

On Sinkulova, just two doors down from my ex-wife’s building, is the Worst Restaurant in the Free World, as that world has expanded to include Central Europe since 1989. If there is a worse restaurant, in Warsaw or Cleveland, Bratislava or Iowa City, it would be worthwhile to dine there simply for the uniquely negative experience, rather in the spirit of attending an elementary-school musical performance: One’s tenderness towards existence may be deepened by an affection for the performers, their flawed humanity, that is very much in spite of the quality of their performance. Continue reading

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Welcome to the Prague Summer Program blog. 2013 is our twentieth anniversary, and we will herein celebrate the incredible talent that has passed through the program since Prague was first called “the Left Bank of the 90s.” Nearly 2000 students and faculty have composed the PSP, and their publications over the past two decades would fill a bookstore! This space will attempt to reflect at least a small portion of the luminous and varied talents of the PSP family. We will publish anecdotes and testimonials, as well as poems, stories, and personal essays.

I offer up (in the next post), in the spirit of inauguration, an essay I wrote several years ago, one in which I meditate, most of the time with my tongue in my cheek, on issues of quality, quality control. It’s titled “Czech, Italian, Mexican Cuisine,” and is about my relation to Czech culture and the Prague Summer Program. The tone seems a bit harsh to me now, though I stand by it. It’s from a time when my ex-wife was the PSP in-country coordinator, and I must say that my mood regarding things Czech has brightened considerably since she disengaged her considerable talents from the program!

The Prague Summer Program has existed for most of the years since the Velvet Revolution, and it has changed in character even as Prague has changed, as the relationships between Czechs and Americans, Czechs and the world, have changed. Prague has transformed from being the capital of a tiny country in which a tiny though incredibly beautiful and literarily replete language is spoken, into a truly international city that has shed most vestiges of a provinciality imposed by more than forty years of totalitarian rule. An entire generation of Czechs for whom the Velvet Revolution is history are now the driving cultural force of Prague, and many perceive themselves as European primarily, and Czech secondarily.

Let this space resonate with the passions and, yes, the ambivalences, we feel about that incredibly beautiful city and its sometimes dour, often droll, always ironic, beautiful people.

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PIVO: a beginning

Pivo is the one Czech word that the majority of people will leave Prague having learned; it just so happens to be the word for beer.  Beer, however, isn’t just a beverage. In the Czech Republic especially, beer is as prevalent as wine is in Italy. It’s a meeting point and a shared experience.

Here, we hope to exist as an online branch of that community and to share art, whether literary or visual, which is inspired by the Czech experience.

To begin, Pavel Šrut’s poem Beerspective, after the cut…

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