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Black American Literature in Czechoslovakia

Cernošské spirituály [Black Spirituals]

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Cernošské spirituály [Black Spirituals], front cover

Composers and musicians had a longstanding interest in spirituals dating back to Antonín Dvořák, who, while serving as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City in the early 1890s, incorporated their motifs into his New World Symphony (1893). The book reflects continued awareness of this musical tradition and consists of ten spirituals, with English and Czech lyrics and chords for guitar. Jiří Joran, a long-time opera soloist at the National Theatre in Prague, translated the lyrics.

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Transcribed music from Cernošské spirituály [Black Spirituals], "Hluboká řeka [Deep River]

Černošská poesie světová antologie [Black Poetry: A World Anthology]. Compiled by Abe Čapek. Prague: Naše vojsko, 1958.

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Černošská poesie světová antologie [Black Poetry: A World Anthology], front cover

This anthology, which contains translations of 72 poets from the United States, Caribbean nations, Brazil, and across, Africa, has a more global perspective on Black literature than most of the other books in this exhibit. The compiler is identified as Abe Čapek, which is the pseudonym of Abraham Chapman, a member of the American Communist Party who left the U.S. during the heyday of the McCarthy era for Czechoslovakia. He took over the project from Josef Škvorecký, the Czech author who later immigrated to Canada and lived in Toronto, when the two co-editors conflicted over the scope and concept of what writers to include. The book was published by Naše vojsko, a publishing house of the Ministry of National Defense, that primarily published military works but also expanded to include literature.

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Černošská poesie světová antologie [Black Poetry: A World Anthology], title page

Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Harlemský zpěvník [The Harlem Songbook]. Translated by Jiří Valja. Prague: Mladá fronta, 1963.

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Harlemský zpěvník [The Harlem Songbook], front cover

This book includes selected translations from two books by Langston Hughes, Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1959) and Ask Your Mama (1961). Jiří Valja had previously published another book of poetry by Langston Hughes and translated selections in Black Poetry: A World Anthology. Mladá Fronta had also published earlier translations of Langston Hughes’ poetry and prose. This volume is the 42nd in Mladá Fronta’s Flowers of Poetry series, which ran from 1958-2008 and spanned 242 books of Czech and translated poetry. Throughout the series’ fifty-year history, the book design remained largely consistent, with Sylvie Vodáková designing most of the covers, including for The Harlem Songbook.

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Harlemský zpěvník [The Harlem Songbook], title page

Černý majestát. Poezie černé Ameriky 20. století [Black Majesty: Poetry of 20th Century Black America]. Edited by Vladimír Klíma. Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1978.

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Černý majestát. Poezie černé Ameriky 20. století [Black Majesty: Poetry of 20th Century Black America], front page

This volume is part of another poetry collection, Poetry Friends Club, which was published from 1961-1991. It includes works by 17 Black American poets, primarily translated by Vladimír Klíma and Zdeněk Hron, with a couple translations by Pavel Šrut. Jiří Rathouský designed the cover and did the full-page black, white, and red illustrations throughout.

Black American Literature in Czechoslovakia