Manuscript Collection - Josef Škvorecký Papers

Josef Škvorecký Papers Josef Škvorecký Papers

Identity area

Reference code


Josef Škvorecký Papers


  • 1945-2010 (Creation)

Level of description

Manuscript Collection

Extent and medium

131 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Josef Škvorecký was born in Náchod, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, on September 27, 1924. In 1943, he graduated from the local high school and worked at Messerschmidt factories in Náchod and Nové Město for two years. Transferred to trench-digging duty, he defected and worked in a cotton mill for the rest of the war. In 1945, he began his studies at the Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, Prague, but soon transferred to the Faculty of Philosophy. He graduated in 1949. In 1948, he was awarded first prize for fiction in a literary contest sponsored by Charles University for his short-story collection Nové canterburské povidky (New Canterbury Tales). The award was cancelled after the communist coup d'état. He subsequently became a member of the Prague literary underground. In 1951, he defended his PhD.

In 1956, his first novel, Konec nyloneho věku (The End of the Nylon Era) was accepted for publication, but banned by censors before it could appear. In 1958, he married Zdena Salivarová. Publication of his second novel Zbabělci (The Cowards), written 1948-49, led to the loss of his editorial position with the magazine Světova literatura, banning and confiscation of the book, and the dismissal of the editors and directors of the firm responsible for its publication. From 1959 to 1960, Škvorecký co-authored a script with film director Miloš Forman which was banned by the Czechoslovak president. In 1963, changes in political climate allowed for the publication of the novella Legenda Emöke (The Legend of Emoke); he wrote two film scripts and received a Czechoslovak Writers Union award for best translation of the year for William Faulkner’s A Fable. From 1964 to 1968, Škvorecký worked as a freelance writer, producing many novels and translations of American and English literature. In 1968, he served as a member of the Central Committee of the Writers Union, the Czechoslovak Film and Television Artists Union, and the Prague Pen club. In August 1968, the Soviet Army intervened in the domestic affairs of Czechoslovakia. In January 1969 Škvorecký and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, emigrated to Canada after several months in the United States. After one-year as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, Škvorecký accepted a position as a Professor of English at Erindale College, University of Toronto. In 1969, he published a satirical novel Tankový prapor (The Tank Corps) and a short story collection Hóřkej svět (The Bitter World). In 1971, together with his wife, he established a Czech language publishing company, 68 Publishers, in Toronto.

In 1973, he began regular monthly talks for Voice of America on American, British, and Canadian literature for broadcast to Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s and 1980s, English translations of his works were published by Collancz (London), Grove Press (New York), Peter Martin Associates (Toronto) and others. In 1982, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1984, the English translation of Přiběn inženýra lidských duši (The Engineer of Human Souls) was published by Lester & Orpen Dennys, Toronto, for which he received a City of Toronto Book Award. In the same year, he was awarded the Governor General’s Award for the English edition of Přiběn inženýra lidských duši and elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution overthrew the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. During a state visit to the U.S. and Canada, Vaclav Havel (who was published by 68 Publishers) visited his Canadian publishers and invited them to return to Czechoslovakia for an official visit. The Strahov Library in Prague and the Government of Canada sponsored an exhibition of 68 Publishers and Škvoreckýs work. Some materials from the holdings of the Fisher Library were on display. The Škvoreckýs were received by universities in Prague, Brno, Olomouc, and Bratislava, where they lecture and presented each university with one set of the complete output of 68 Publishers, courtesy of the Canadian government. During this visit and subsequent ones, Škvorecký was able to retrieve materials that he wrote as a teenager and young man, left behind when he emigrated. In 1990, Škvorecký retired from Erindale College and, together with his wife, began to wind up the affairs of 68 Publishers. In 1992, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He died in Toronto in 2012 at the age of 87.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Papers were donated to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in 1973, 1990, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Collection includes holograph and typescript drafts of Josef Škvorecký’s works (novels, travelogues, literary essays, film scripts), as well as correspondence, juvenilia, and other material relating to his life and work.

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Conditions governing access

Material may be requested in person at the Fisher Library Reference Desk, or in advance using our online stack retrieval request form:

Please note: Some restrictions on access.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • Czech

Script of material

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Rules and/or conventions used

Dates of creation revision deletion


  • Czech



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