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Brian Goodman: The Nonconformists

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Stanford Libraries and Stanford's American Studies Program are pleased to present a book talk with Brian Goodman, who will discuss his recent publication, The Nonconformists: American and Czech Writers across the Iron Curtain. Copies will be available for purchase and signing at the event. Co-sponsored by the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, and the Department of English.

This event will be held in person and online. Register here to attend.

“In some indescribable way, we are each other’s continuation,” Arthur Miller wrote of the imprisoned Czech playwright Václav Havel. After a Soviet-led invasion ended the Prague Spring, many U.S.-based writers experienced a similar shock of solidarity. Author Brian Goodman examines the surprising and consequential connections between American and Czech literary cultures during the Cold War—connections that influenced art and politics on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

American writers had long been attracted to Prague, a city they associated with the spectral figure of Franz Kafka. Goodman reconstructs the Czech journeys of Allen Ginsberg, Philip Roth, and John Updike, as well as their friendships with nonconformists like Havel, Josef Škvorecký, Ivan Klíma, and Milan Kundera. Czechoslovakia, meanwhile, was home to a literary counterculture shaped by years of engagement with American sources, from Moby-Dick and the Beats to Dixieland jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Czechs eagerly followed cultural trends in the United States, creatively appropriating works by authors like Langston Hughes and Ernest Hemingway, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves.

The Nonconformists tells the story of a group of writers who crossed boundaries of language and politics, rearranging them in the process. The transnational circulation of literature played an important role in the formation of new subcultures and reading publics, reshaping political imaginations and transforming the city of Kafka into a global capital of dissent. From the postwar dream of a “Czechoslovak road to socialism” to the neoconservative embrace of Eastern bloc dissidence on the eve of the Velvet Revolution, history was changed by a collision of literary cultures.

Brian K. Goodman is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Arizona State University, where he is also a faculty affiliate of the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian, & East European Studies and the Center for Jewish Studies. Before coming to ASU, Goodman was a Postdoctoral Instructor in Human Rights at the University of Chicago. His writing on literature, dissent, and free expression has appeared in American Literary History, the Bloomsbury Handbook to Cold War Literary Cultures, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Public Books. His first book, published by Harvard University Press, is The Nonconformists: American and Czech Writers across the Iron Curtain. Goodman graduated from Stanford in 2006, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard. His new book originated in his research in Stanford’s Special Collections for his honors thesis as an American Studies major.

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