Tag Archives: creative writing

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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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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