Alan Levy: 1932 – 2004
For many in Central Europe, Alan Levy – who died in Prague at the age of 72 after a brief battle with cancer – was a pivotal figure. Born in New York in 1932, Levy studied at Brown and Colombia universities before beginning work as a reporter for the Louisville-Courier-Journal, subsequently writing for Life and the New York Times and interviewing leading figures such as the Beatles, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon and Graham Greene.
Levy first came to Prague in 1967 to collaborate in the production of a musical, but stayed to cover the Prague Spring of 1968 – the only accredited American journalist in Czechoslovakia to do so. He and his family remained until 1971 when they were expelled by the communist authorities for allegedly spying. The family settled in Vienna where Alan worked as dramaturge for the city’s English Theatre, wrote for publications such as The International Herald Tribune, and published an account of his experiences of the Prague Spring. Rowboat to Prague (1972) was translated and distributed in Czechoslovakia as a samizdat publication. The book became a classic and a mandatory read for all dissidents and those interested in the events of the Prague Spring. It was republished in 1980 under the title So Many Heroes and it has since been translated into several languages.
With the Velvet Revolution, Levy returned to Prague, to begin work as Editor-in Chief of The Prague Post. In one of his first articles for the paper, Levy famously referred to the Czech capital as “the Left Bank of the 90s”, a catchphrase that attracted literally thousands of mostly young people to the city. During his time at “the Post”, Levy wrote the Prague Profile column, which provided succinct personalized portraits of the diverse array of people living and working in the city. The column became one of the paper’s most popular features and over 500 pieces were published. Levy actively wrote his profiles right up to his death.
In 1993, Levy published The Wiesenthal File, which portrayed the life of notorious Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The book won Levy the Author of the Year award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Such was Alan’s standing in Prague that tributes came flooding in from various luminaries shortly after news of his death had been released. Czech Prime Minister Vladimír Špidla described his passing as “a loss not only for his relatives and journalism, but to the same measure for the Czech Republic that he loved.” Former president Václav Havel noted that “because of his human qualities and professional experience, Levy quickly became recognized as a not inconsiderable figure for whom I had great respect. What is more, I regret him leaving us at a point when a number of Czech media outlets are blurring the limits between serious and tabloid journalism.”
As English-language periodicals published in Prague are far and few-between, we of course came to know Alan. There was always a sort of kinship between Alan and myself: the older editor-in-chief statesman, and the younger novice publisher. As Prague is a small city, we would periodically meet up at the standard reception or inauguration, only to step aside, glass of wine in hand, and quickly go over the events of the day. For me, the best thing about Alan was that he was here. Quite simply put, he was not just the journalistic standard, but his door was always open for me, and for everyone else as well. Prague is a tough city to do journalism in, but knowing that Alan was here somehow made it easier. At the same time, it pushed us to be as good as we could be. In journalism as in everything else, it’s easy to cut corners, to compromise, to give in. Alan never did. And that, in its own way, served as both lesson and inspiration to us here at The New Presence. We shall miss Alan, but we shall never forget him.
|The New Presence||summer 2004|
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