Author examines life as a woman under socialism

· 4 min read

Author examines life as a woman under socialism

Brenda Flanagan

As an author, poet and cultural ambassador, Brenda Flanagan has traveled the world, but only the Czech Republic has endeared itself to her so much that she considers the country her second home.

In a public lecture, Flanagan will share stories about her travels to the Czech Republic, its history and her research on women who lived under socialism there before the fall of the Soviet Union. Flanagan’s lecture is part of UNL’s Czech Komensky Club Czech March program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Colloquium Series. It will be in the Unity Room of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center at 6:30 p.m. March 19.

A professor of English at Davidson College, Flanagan has published numerous works of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. She said she developed a fascination for the Czech Republic and the women who live there by accident: Twelve years ago, Flanagan took her first trip to the country and went exploring in local shops and bookstores.

“One of the things that I always like to do when I go to a country that I have not visited before is visit local bookstores and ask about women writers,” Flanagan said. “I like to see what they are writing about, and in Prague, I especially wanted to know what they had been writing about in the last 10 years or so.”

An employee in one Prague bookstore suggested Flanagan read the book “Baradla Cave” by Czech surrealist Eva Švankmajerová. Flanagan loved the book so much, she set out to meet Švankmajerová and they became friends. Flanagan’s conversations with Švankmajerová inspired her to start a new field of research on women’s lives under socialism.

“Eva wanted me to write something about her, about her life as a surrealist and her life as a writer in the Czech Republic under socialism, so I began to do that,” Flanagan said. “And I began to research other women who lived under socialism.”

She interviewed dozens of Czech women about everything from politics to everyday activities. She is writing a book about Švankmajerová and the personalities, struggles and triumphs of the women she interviewed and plans to share an excerpt during her UNL talk.

“One woman I interviewed had run away from home as a teenager and was living under bridges, living the life of a vagrant,” she said. “Because of the way the Soviet Union was constructed, and how we think about that in North America, I thought, ‘There’s no vagrancy there,’ but this woman was pretty much living that life.”

Hana Waisserova, lecturer in Czech Studies and adviser to the Czech Komensky Club, said Flanagan’s visit would be beneficial to the university.

“She is an amazing, well-rounded, worldly overachiever, who can relate well to many people worldwide – and especially to the underrepresented women – and reflect on them smartly in her own voice,” Waisserova said.

The Czech March series is sponsored by Humanities Nebraska, Nebraska Cultural Endowment, the Department of Modern Language and Literatures and Czech Komensky Club. Flanagan’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

The program will conclude with a public lecture by UNL’s Stephen Lahey on March 31. His lecture, “The Legacy of John Huss,” will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Heritage Room of Nebraska Union. Lahey, Happold Professor of Religious Studies, is an expert on John Huss, a Czech priest and early Christian reformer and predecessor to the Protestant movement.

Waisserova said the Czech March speakers will be fascinating for the campus and beyond.

“When we planned this year’s series, we wanted to connect the UNL Czech program and the community during Czech March,” she said. “There’s such a large Czech heritage community here in Nebraska, which is supportive to the program over 100 years – so it’s very important for us to do this.”

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