Black Czech writer Zmeškal won EU Prize for Literature in 2011

Czech writer Tomáš Zmeškal, who was born as the son of a Congolese father and a Czech mother in Prague, won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011 for his debut novel “Love Letter in Cuneiform Script” (Milostný Dopis Klínovým Písmem) set in post-war Czechoslovakia through the collapse of communism.
He was one of 12 winners of the prize, which recognizes the best new or emerging authors in the European Union.

Zmeškal’s novel "Životopis černobílého jehněte"  ("The Biography of the Black and White Lamb") of 2009, written long before his debut was published, is the first novel in Czech language dealing with the experience of Africans in the communist countries in Eastern Europe. It is the childhood and youth story of twins, who do not know their ethnically mixed parents and grow in their grandmother’s house. In spite of her attempts to protect them, they suffer from the racism and hostility that surrounds them. Which is all the more absurd since the society, in which they live, officially encourages internationalist attitudes and an understanding among nations.

Tomáš Zmeškal’s novel "Milostný dopis klínovým písmem" was on the shortlist for the Magnesia Litera Award 2009, and received the distinguished Josef Škvorecký Prize. The writer, translator and English teacher lives in Prague.


  1. If one parent is Czech, how is the son or daughter "black"? How are you defining "black"? By looks, ancestry or what? Are you presuming that "white" means "pure"? What is the exact dividing line between "black" and "white" in YOUR eyes?

  2. Uh, A D Powell, please DO NOT be an Internet Troll/Hag and purvey your views at a site dedicated to AFRO-Europe, and by extension, the entire African Diaspora. Your own website gets enough views already, (or doesn't it?!) to get your message across. If not, please do NOT come to Afro-Europe to start polemics, split hairs, and to just be disruptive and annoying! Cyberspace is vast and practically endless.....squat somewhere else, please. I've "seen" your "droppings" @ sites everywhere.

  3. You have to resort to name-calling when you KNOW you're wrong. You can't answer the questions I pose. Your great fear is that you will no longer be indulged like a mentally ill child and have to back up your hypodescent views with logic - an alien concept to you.

  4. A.D powell I’ve read your argument about a White person with African ancestry. But you’re looking at it from an American one-drop rule perspective. In Europe this rule does not apply.

    In the Netherlands, were I am from, the white Dutch people used to call everyone who wasn’t white a black person. They even called Turkish people “black”. Later on the Surinamese black people began claiming the word.

    Black in Europe is not a scientific race categorisation, it's more like a sense of belonging, a feeling of being part of a larger community. I think a fresh of the boat African, or a Caribbean person may not feel “black” at all, he or she may feel a Nigerian, or a Jamaican. But the more they meet other black people from different origins, the more “black” they will feel. So black in Europe is also an umbrella term for all the different nationalities, biracials/ multiracials included.

    Read some of the stories of the black people in the Czech Republic, or in Turkey. Turkish Jazz singer Melis Sökmen has her African roots only from her grandmother, but she still regards herself as black, or Afro-Turkish.

    The big difference between Europe, the US, the Caribbean, South America and Africa is that Europe is not a post-slavery, or a post-colonial society. Words like African, black, brown, light skinned, dark skinned, Creole, multi-racial, mixed race, bi-cultural, field slaves, house slaves, quadreloupe, or a White person with African ancestry are just words reflecting our historical struggle with effects of slavery, racism and colonialism. To an average white European these terms have no meaning. In Europe you’re either black, or white. I remember a story of someone who was just quarter black and was still called a “negro” by one of his white classmates. The word quadreloupe means nothing to a bigot.

    But to answer your question, I see Tomáš Zmeškal a black person, because he identifies himself as black. He wrote a book about the topic and he is part of an organisation called chocolate children. But I think he considers him first and foremost, a Czech.

    This whole story is of course my personal view.

    1. Dear Afro-Europe Moderator:
      Your reply to Ms. Powell was much too erudite, intelligent and friendly. I am not exaggerating, in the least, when I WARN you that this Internet Acrobat leaps from blog to blog with an agenda: To disrupt, annoy, cause conflict and derail all consensus that maybe, just maybe, there are thousands, perhaps millions, of AFRO-descended peoples in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas, who WANT to identify themselves and feel comfortable with the label "Black"----regardless of our phenotype.

      Does it not raise an eyebrow that, in spite of the amazing accomplishments of these Afro-Czechs, in a country where they face racial discrimination from a very young age and still manage to triumph and excel, Powell preferred to IGNORE this and instead, zoomed in on your "supposed misnomer" of labeling these individuals, "Black?"

      I could go on and on and give you example after example, how this A.D. Powell person is on a mission to DESTROY every website in her aim that would "dare" to call "Black" people with a parent who is not "phenotypically Black", "black". Please, do not fall into her trap! Ask around @ Afro-focused websites in cyberspace; she is well known for her "criminal offenses" of mayhem against "BLACK" people in the blogosphere. A word to the wise, Afro-Europe Moderator......

      Thank you! And may BLACK folk (and others) :-) protect your site!

    2. Thanks for the warning Anonymous!! I will follow your advice. I usually delete every post of extreme right wing bigots, but if she only wants to disruptive and anti-black than I will treat her as an extreme right wing racist. Thanks again for the warning.

    3. Off topic but just for the record:

      The blogger A. D. Powell -who wrote the first comment on this post- has the same initials as I do but is DEFINITELY not me and my views on this subject are also DEFINITELY not the same as that blogger.

      Also, I never use the initials and last name "A. D. Powell" while blogging. And it's rare that any person who exchange comments with me while blogging refers to me as Ms. Powell. (I added that title to my blogging name because readers were often referring to me as a male.)

      Since at least one commenter here referred to A. D. Powell as "Ms. Powell", please don't use that same referent for me. To make sure there is no confusion, if anyone writes a comment that is specifically directed to me, please refer to me as "Azizi".


  5. Anonymous is lying. I don't frequent "black" web sites. However, cowards like Anonymous have been slandering me for a long time because they want to silence my views. Ask yourself what he is so afraid of and demand that he supply proof of his allegations. Here is an example of what the coward Anonymous fears:

  6. It is certainly not universal for Europeans to practice extreme, forced hypodescent. White British actress Rebecca Hall doesn't:

    Does Hall identify herself as black? She bursts out laughing, and when she does her features scrunch into a lovely, messy abstract. "Heeeheee. It is quite funny. No, you could not get more white and middle class and English than me."

  7. Anonymous, you are correct with your assertions about A.D Powell. She is well known to frequent Afro ethnic websites using various pseudonyms to write disparaging comments about black people in the U.S as well as in all parts of the African Diaspora.. But here is the clincher! A.D. Powell is not white herself though she decidedly espouses an Eurocentrism point of view. Hypodescent has always been the preferred way for European based countries to classify its citizens of African origins. It has been the norm in America since the founding of that country. And I am sure that has been the experience of all African derived people throughout Europe who face the same kinds of social and racial discrimination as practiced in the states. Being black describes so much more than a recognizable phenotype that can be categorized one way only. It is a shared roots experience that transcends skin color. Unfortunately, Poweel chooses to focus on skin shade along and ignore all of the other aspects that draw people closer together.
    As for the Melungeons: According to the latest DNA-testing of the Melungeon people commissioned by the Melungeon DNA Project in 2009. Melungeon people so far shows overwhelming mixed Sub-Saharan African and European haplotypes. There is also a very inciteful book called The Resurrection of a Proud People, by Brent Kennedy that readers will find informative. Knowledge is power and there is no fear when you have the facts, Chance.

  8. Excuse the typos, Powell for "Poweel" alone for "along".

  9. Powell cites references that reflect her way of thinking but there are just as many divergent opinions on the subject of mixed race who believe differently.

  10. I know I'm a bit late, but I just wanted to point out that Anonymous was spot-on in regards to the poster "AD Powell". She bounces around the internet and seems to appear virtually everywhere Black people of mixed descent are mentioned. No matter what the discussion is about - life, love, whatever - if this mixed-descent Black person is mentioned she will redirect the discussion to that their race ("Black") and use it as a springboard to attack Black people as a whole. She is a mixed-race woman who wishes to be White, and is frustrated by the fact that American society does not recognize her as such, and so she comes on the internet and takes it out on Blacks. Do not pay her any mind, whether she returns to this blog or if you see her on another.

    1. Hi Brian, thanks for the warning! I must admit when she wrote "Hall .. bursts out laughing" I stopped taking her seriously.

    2. I'm sorry if I'm getting cheeky, "Afro-Europe",

      but I think injustice is being done to A.D. Powell:
      • she was citing that quoted paragraph word for word from the article she linked to;
      • you go along with accusations that are backed by no examples or links, not even a citation;
      • her -alledged- reputation should not automatically invalidate her message.

      I'm also a bit consternated about accompagnying inflammatory suggestions:
      • "[...] who wishes to be White, [...]" - Brian
      • "[...] anti-black [...]" - you, from all persons.
      Is it in the line of this blog, that dissent equates to betrayal?

      And from my own native Dutch-language experience, I know that the closest name-calling to "Black", that is applied to Turks and Moroccans, is "sand-negroes": the implied 'Blackness' is meant as an insult (by those who use the term - not me!). Yet, it is done to some effect, because among Moroccans, there's a good deal of racism towards people of Sub-Saharan descent aswell. Morocca, after all, IS "a post-slavery" and "post-colonial society", where Sub-Saharan Africans were commonly regarded as 'lesser' (i.e., spiritually unclean, racially equated with pagans). That the non-White populations in predominantly White countries would be brothers in Blackness to one another, seems -IMHO- an error of judgement due to black-and-white thinking. Furthermore, the conflation of 'Afro-' and 'Black' ignores the fact that the experience of "a White person with African ancestry" and one who is "dark skinned" is in fact not the same at all: bigots CAN tell the difference and you can just SEE which of both they will prevent from becoming miss, president or other national figure to greater effort.

      But it's your blog: you can conclude my opinion to be but trolling, disregard it, delete and carry on. I can only hope you will consider.

      One thing I -seriously- wonder now:
      is there any place for a 'Non-Black' Afro-European identity in this community?

    3. Bazompora, I love your dissenting views. By the way, I gave AD Powell my opinion, but she didn't respond.

      As for the accusations, I know a little bit about her background now. See
      AD Powell

      And your right about that her reputation should not automatically invalidate her message. But I never disqualified her opinion, perhaps only as person when I wrote that I stopped taking her seriously because she mention “Halle”.

      "Is there any place for a 'Non-Black' Afro-European identity in this community?"

      Well, you will first have to define what a Afro-European identity is. I am born and raised in the Netherlands and I have a Surinamese/Dutch Caribbean background. I grew up with Dutch, Dutch-Jewish, Turkish, Indonesian, Molukken, Black/Hindu/Javanese/Chinese Surinamese, Caribbean people and the all the mixes in between them. Does that makes me Afro-European, or is it just typical Black Dutch? In what way are my experiences the same and in what way are they different from other black people in Europe?

      As for non-black. I know people who are biracial, mixed with Hindu and Black Caribbean ancestry. Their kids are just one quarter black, for the other part White. Are they Black or are then non-Black. You wrote that in African people consider you white and in Belgium people consider you black. So to quote AD Powell, “What is the exact dividing line between "black" and white in YOUR eyes? “

      If I would consider a person who is one quarter black as a non-Black person, than I think that such a person can have an Afro identity, so yes, there would be enough space. Since I still have to find out what an Afro-European identity is, I leave the question to you.

    4. Thank you for the clarification, Afro-Europe. With some of the regular commenters looking down on "exogamy" and any full claiming of that twofold/manyfold heritage, I began wondering what the editor's mindset was about. But I'm comforted by the reply I got.

      I can see now what the allegations towards A.D. Powell are about, although she wasn't expressive of content anywhere like that on here. Problem is, that such ambivalences being spread out, that it would take alot longer to conduct the process of commentors' merit, than to judge their message without more. But that's just my opinion.

      “What is the exact dividing line between "black" and white in YOUR eyes? “

      I guess that would be I, since I embody what both sides are divided about.
      Evidently from this, Black has to be darker than me and White lighter. Although, I prefer to see my Half-Black and Half-White position as a junction, rather than a division: that is one reason why I was drawn to the Afro-European identification.

      While I have been called 'Black' on occasions during my childhood, that was generally in emphasis of rejection. Encouraged to fill the "token slot" in lilly White school environments, I did at a time comply and assume the title 'Black', only to be chided for being a "Bounty" (the toffee that's white inside) and for being but a "Faux-Black" who is passing for a full one (all by White Belgian kids).

      'What' I would be, is called a 'mulatto'. Others generally have described my color as 'brown', although one wiki search on melanin would class it as 'Dark'. But if I ever would have picked the label myself, I would have come up with "Grey", since that is the blend of black and white.

      If I were to suggest a definition of an Afro-European, it would be a European citizen who recognises ANY part of his/her identity in an African origin,
      regardless of whether he/she is Black, White, Mulatto, Blasian or other.

  11. How nasty. A.D.Powell was NOTHING but polite. DEAL with it. You said it yourself the writer calls himself Black but considers himself Czech first. Well you can't do that in the USA in many circles. And no, I LIVE in the UK after living in the USA and , Black is not a "familial umbrella term". NOT AT ALL! You live in a different EU I guess...

  12. Being black describes so much more than a recognizable phenotype that can be categorized one way only. It is a shared roots experience that transcends skin color."

    Really? That's utter fiction. Like a bad book of the month club. many of my Black US friends are recoiled from by West Indians who come to the US while sometimes they are not. What an AWFUL assumption.

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form