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Czech Embassy pays tribute to Kafka in 'Mutual Inspirations Festival'

The Czech Embassy honors the legacy of literary icon Franz Kafka in its annual 'Mutual Inspirations Festival' Sept. 3-Oct. 30, with theatre and concert performances, films, exhibits, and lectures at the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, and the embassy.

'Apeman', Kafka's short story 'A Report to an Academy', adapted and performed by Drew Valins (shown here) on Sept. 9 at Czech Embassy for its 'Mutual Inspirations Festival' Sept. 3-Oct. 31.
'Apeman', a Kafka short story adapted and performed by Drew Valins at Czech Embassy Sept. 9. Photo courtesy of Drew Valins.

"I am nothing but literature, and can and want to be nothing else," wrote Kafka ("Diaries 1910-1913"). "Writing is a form of prayer."

The festival includes performances of Kafka's "Metamorphosis", his most influential work, at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre; concerts at the National Gallery of Art; films in the Library of Congress' "Docs in Salute" documentary series focusing on Jewish themes; and many other events. For full listing and calendar, click here, and see details below.

Kafka (1883-1924), born in Prague to a Jewish middle-class, German-speaking family, wrote in his spare time, often throughout the night, while he worked as a lawyer for an insurance company.

When he realized that writing would be his main focus, "everything rushed in that direction and left empty all those...joys of sex, eating, drinking, philosophical reflection, and above all music. I atrophied in all these directions," he wrote in "Diaries" Jan. 3, 1912.

However, Kafka published very little during his short life, and had instructed his best friend, writer-philosopher Max Brod -- "Everything I leave behind me...be burned unread."

Fortunately, Brod betrayed Kafka, who died of tuberculosis at 40. Within a year, Brod got "The Trial" published, followed by "The Castle" in 1926, and "Amerika" in 1927.

(In 1939, minutes before Nazis shut the borders of Czechoslovakia, Brod carried one suitcase with thousands of Kafka's manuscript pages, and fled to Palestine. Much of those drafts, letters, diaries, and drawings were embroiled in a legal battle, evocative of "The Trial", for more than half a century. It was finally resolved by an Israeli court in 2012. Click here to watch an excerpt of the film "Kafka's Last Story".)

Kafka's works were so influential that they spawned the over-used, under-understood adjective "Kafka-esque". He greatly influenced existentialism, and writers including Nobel Prize winners Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre (he declined it), and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, as well as composers and artists.

The Embassy launches its festival Sept. 3, by opening "KAFKA & CO.", humorous drawings, lithographs, and etchings by Czech cartoonist Jiří Slíva. His work has been in "The Wall Street Journal", "The New York Times", and some 150 other publications. A reception is included. Admission is free, but RSVP is required.

Performances include:

  • The Embassy on Sept. 9 also presents "Apeman", Kafka's short story "A Report to an Academy", adapted and performed by Drew Valins. It tells of Red Peter's metamorphosis from ape to human, and what he must do to obtain "freedom". Admission is free, but RSVP is required.
  • A unique musical performance of "Metamorphosis" by the Alliance for New Music-Theatre will be at the Woolly Mammoth from Sept. 10-21. Kafka's alter ego, Gregor Samsa, awakens to find himself transformed into a giant bug. This version has soundscapes, traditional Jewish melodies, vocal improvisations accompanied by live cello, and animation inspired by Kafka.

Listen to "Gregor’s Lament", "Bug Crawl", and "Celebration Dance" at http://newmusictheatre.org/blog/ (scroll down on the webpage).

Also, hear an interview with director Susan Galbraith.and cellist Yvonne Caruthers Sept. 2 at 11 A.M. on WPFW 89.3 FM, or listen on-line at www.wpfwfm.org.

Concerts include:

  • "Overlapping Worlds", Czech and Jewish music that has resonated throughout Prague for centuries will be performed by Russian Jewish violin virtuoso Alexander Shonert on Oct. 26, at a free concert in the National Gallery's West Building, West Garden Court. Violin maestro Josef Suk, the great-grandson of Antonín Dvořák, remarked that "He [Shonert] is a brilliant artist, gifted by God."

Films include:

  • The Library of Congress on Sept. 17 begins its "Docs in Salute" free series with "The Trials", from the documentary trilogy "Between a Star and a Crescent". The film, in English, demonstrates that Jews in Czechoslovakia were victims not only of the Holocaust, but also of the subsequent communist tyranny. A Q&A with director *Martin Šmok follows the screening.
  • On Oct. 1, the Library of Congress continues the series with "Father of Refugees", focusing on the mysterious death of Charles Jordan, a high-ranking official of a major Jewish humanitarian organization. He aimed to change the very core of the conflict in the Middle East. In the summer of 1967, shortly after he had disappeared, his body was pulled from Czechoslovakia's Vltava River.

Most of the series' films are at 1 P.M. at the Library of Congress, James Madison Building, Mary Pickford Theater, Independence Avenue at First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C.

Lectures include:

  • "Czech Jews under Communists 1945–1989" by documentary director *Martin Šmok on Sept. 17 at the embassy. Using filmed interview excerpts, photographs, and documents, the lecture will explore aspects of the postwar history of Prague's Jewish community. Admission is free, but RSVP is required.
  • "Kafka’s Magic Prague" by Czech Cultural Attaché Robert Řehák on Oct. 23 at the embassy. Prague's vibrant history spans more than a thousand years of coexistence among Czechs, Germans, and Jews. Řehák will explore this majestic city through its many legends, and delve into its origins.

As Kafka wrote in one of his numerous letters, "Prague doesn't let go...This old crone has claws. One has to yield, or else." He also wrote that his "whole life" was "contained in this small circle" of Prague's Old Town Square: his first three homes; his school in the Kinsky Palace, where his father had a shop; his university; and office. Admission is free but RSVP is required.

A free encore presentation, an exhibit "Eugenic Minds", opens on Nov. 8 at American University's Katzen Arts Center, in collaboration with the Shoah Memorial Prague. The exhibit combines a documentary by Pavel Štingl, animations, and paintings by Xenie Hoffmeisterová, and literary artwork by Patrik Ouředník. The combination "delves into the definition of science and the situations when learning becomes a pseudo-science," the embassy explains.

The festival celebrates mutual inspirations between Czech and American cultures, and beyond.

Prior honorees in the annual "Mutual Inspirations Festival" have included Václav Havel 2013, Miloš Forman 2012, and Antonín Dvořák 2011.

As Kafka wrote in "Amerika", "Everyone is welcome!"

For more info: "Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014 – Franz Kafka", www.mutualinspirations.org. Embassy of the Czech Republic, www.mzv.cz/washington, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 202-274-9100.