“Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred!” ~ Václav Havel
By day, Havel held odd jobs, including as a chemical laboratory technician and a worker in a brewery. By night, he studied, finishing secondary school and attending the Faculty of Economics at Czech Technical University. Yet, he never gave up his love for the arts. In the margins of his lab work, he would write poems. Writing served as a tool to overcome his feeling of being an outsider as well as an outlet during his most difficult times. One of his favorite writers as a teenager was Franz Kafka. Like the literary figures in Kafka’s writings, Havel lived during the time of a political system where absurdity not law ruled. With his friends, Havel enjoyed discussing philosophical matters and would seek out the company of writers and intellectuals—such as Czech poets Jiří Kolář, Jaroslav Seifert (the first Czech to receive the Nobel Prize in literature), and Vladimír Holan. Havel’s earliest works, published largely in samizdat editions, were collections of poetry that first appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s. A collection called Antikody, which consists of calligrams where letters and words create a certain design, is some of his most renowned work. In 1956, he attracted widespread attention when he appealed for the official recognition of several writers during a government-sponsored conference for young authors. This act of courage drew the attention of the communists, who would continue to keep a watchful eye on him for years to come.
Photo © Oldřich Škácha
1978 – Havel reciting poems with František Brož, Sázava