Jan Drda (1915-1970)

Personality in Literature section

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Jan Drda (novelist, publicist, playwright, film screenwriter) was born on 4th April 1915 in Žižkova Street in Příbram, close to the current Sevastopolské Square. He didn’t have a happy childhood because his mother passed away soon, and his father didn’t manage to care for the family. The father married again and left Příbram for good in 1925. Jan and his 2 years younger sister Marie were brought up by their grandparents, yet unfortunately, they also passed away soon. Marie ended up in an orphanage and Jan lived with his relatives because he was already a grammar school student by that time.

Thanks to his good grades, Jan was receiving a scholarship from “association supporting poor grammar students in Příbram“ and successfully finished his studies in 1934. During the studies, he already began to write short stories to Oheň (Fire) and Studentský časopis (Student journal) magazines. Drda even wrote some plays e.g. Dobytí Tróje (Conquest of Troy) for amateur theatre and performed plays himself. Inspired by Osvobozené Divadlo (Liberated Theatre) he wrote some interpretations of Vest Pocket Revue and Smoking Revue.

After graduation Drda left for Prague to study Comparative Literature Studies and Classical Philology at Charles University. He succeeded in gaining a scholarship and also was earning some money by writing novels and stories to newspapers. Unfortunately though, due to organising student protests, he was excluded from Masaryk dormitories and had to terminate his studies for financial reasons. In summer 1937 Drda commenced his first employment as a newspaper editor for Lidové Noviny (People's News) in Zlín. He focused mainly on columns and short stories and was responsible for cultural and sports news. In May 1938 he relocated to Prague editorial office, where he shorty cooperated with Karel Čapek. The cooperation influenced him in his future journalistic and literary works. Drda can be considered to be Čapek’s last trainee. Moreover, he turned out to be a talented professional. During five years in Lidové Noviny, he wrote more than 6000 editorials, feuilletons, reflection essays, columns, play reviews, stories and short satiric stories called “soudničky“.

Drda published his debut novel Městečko nad dlani (A city on a hand palm) during the occupation in 1940. Příbram undoubtedly inspired his pithy stories of inhabitants living in Rukapáně city. The resemblance is evident in names of locations and inhabitants, mining talk or humour. Even though it may seem strange, the period of occupation was quite successful for Drda. Selection of his feuilletons, art monography, psychological novel Putování Petra Sedmilháře and novel Živá voda were published. His dramatic production and particularly fairy tale Hrátky s čertem (Playing with the Devil) was important, too. Hrátky s čertem was published only in 1945. Němá barikáda (Silent barricade) – a short stories collection on times of protectorate were published in 1946. One of the stories called Vyšší princip (A Higher Principle) focuses on the tragic events of Heydrichiáda (a period of repressions in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi era) on Grammar school in Příbram. A movie based on the novel was recorded in 1960. 

After liberation, Drda decided to involve himself in politics and together with his wife joined KSČ (Communist party of Czechoslovakia). He also became editor of newly established Práce (Work) journal and occupied influential cultural and political posts - he was a chairman of the Czech Writers Association and member of National Assembly. Due to lack of time for writing, his literary outputs partially lost its quality. Paradoxically, resigning from the position of chairman in Writers Association in 1958 helped him improve the quality of his work. In that time he wrote charming České pohádky (Czech fairy tales) and screenplays of Dařbuján a Pandrhola and Dalskabáty fairytales.

Jan Drda was laureate of Klement Gottwald State Prize and Řád práce (Work medal). He also received the title of Czech national artist. In the 1960s his popularity began to decline especially after August 1968 when we publicly stood up against the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops. He was dismissed from all his posts, including the position of editor-in-chief in Svět práce (World of Work) journal that he established. Furthermore, he was excluded from the Communist Party and spent the rest of his life in privacy on Dobříš chateau.

Jan Drda died on 28th November 1970 on heart failure in Dobříš, where he is buried. One of the streets carries his name in his native Příbram and since 1990 there’s a library named after him.


FRYŠ, Josef, 1944-. Dvanáct osudů dvou staletí. Josef Fryš. Vyd. 1. Příbram: J. Fryš, 2006. 270 s. ISBN 80-239-8119-6.

NUSL, Robert. Drda byl posledním novinářským žákem Karla Čapka. Příbramský deník, 2011, 143, s. 3. ISSN 1210-7360.

Author: Hana Pegová, Jan Drda Library in Příbrami