Department of Slavic
Languages and Literatures
Ballantine Hall 502
1020 E. Kirkwood Ave.
Born in Děčín, Czechoslovakia on May 15, 1946, she spent her childhood and attended primary and secondary schools in Prague, Vršovice. She graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Charles University, Prague with Prom.Phil. degree in 1969 (equivalent to a Master’s) in the areas of Spanish and Russian. Later on, her Prom.Phil. thesis Functions of Linguistic Repetition (on the Materials of Russian and Spanish Dialogues) was recognized as a Ph.D. level dissertation and she received her doctorate from Slavic and General Linguistics in 1970. Refusing membership in the Communist party, she was forbidden to defend a second dissertation Derived Nouns with Emotive Meanings in Russian for the degree of Candidate of Sciences. In protest, she left Czechoslovakia, living first in Cologne, Germany (1974-1976), then emigrating to the USA. For this act she was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in absentia.
She taught at six universities in four languages in three different countries. Among these were the University of Cologne, University of Virginia and Harvard University. In addition, she lectured at Universities of Moscow, Bremen, Munich, Bern, Seville and Prague. Since 1982, she has taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, where she directs the Czech program. She became a Full Professor in 1991.
She published a number of books of poetry in Czech and English. Her poems also appeared in journals in several other languages. From the area of semiotics, especially important is her work on emotive language, lexicology, word-formation, functions of repetition, degrees of emphasis, emotive signs in poetry and axiological questions of Czech literature. She has also done extensive translations of Czech poets into English. Since 2000, she has been also active as a visual artist, publishing and exhibiting her collages in both America and Europe. Since 1990, she has worked extensively with bio-energy. In addition to her own creative writing, she has also translated Czech poets into English.
An animal lover, she lives in Bloomington, IN with her dogs Fufi and Poonchi and her cat Misha. She visits Czech Republic for readings, lectures and workshops on a regular basis.
Poet and Translator
Volková published a series of six books of poetry in the publishing house Poetry Abroad (PmD) in Munich (apart from journal publications in both Czech and English). A selection from these poems appeared in Votobia, Olomouc in 1995 under the title Roztříštěné světy (Shattered Worlds). In English, her selected poems were published by Sheep Meadow Press, New York in 1993 under the title Courage of the Rainbow. Her poetry is reflective, existential and increasingly developing its spiritual dimension.
Currently she writes and publishes bilingually, e.g., Proměny/Transformations (2000, 2001) and Vstup do světla/Entering Light (2002), Ze tmy zrozená/Born out of Darkness (2004/2005) in limited editions with her own color collages in her Explorer Editions, Bloomington & Prague. These are surrealist and inspirational books focusing in part on the healing of society through the individual on many levels. These civilizational maladies include cultural, national and religious prejudices, race and sexual violence and their far-reaching consequences. The poetry of Volková is a poetry of effort towards spiritual evolution, searching for and finding higher, unifying principles and universal meaning. Entering Light and Born out of Darkness were produced by her and filmed in Bloomington as multimedia performances enhanced by dance, music, and the visual projection of collages. A selection from her poetry and translations is also portrayed on a CD The Slightest Reminder of Your Being… (Three Decades of Exile: 1974-2004), 2005.
The author has been translated into a number of languages and she has also translated various Czech poets into English. Currently she is working on an anthology of translations of 20th century Czech poetry. Besides poetry, she also publishes stories and essays. Her work continues to be widely reviewed and discussed internationally. She appears in various dictionaries of literature and her poetry was the topic of a Master’s thesis by J. Češková (Bronislava Volková - the Poet of Two Worlds, Liberec 1998). Her work was reviewed and commented upon by Bohumil Hrabal, Jiří Holub, Arnošt Lustig, W.S. Merwin, Willis Barnstone, Petr Král, Vladimír Novotný, Igor Hochel, Mojmír Trávníček and Maria Banerjee Němcová, among others.
Volková has authored many articles and two extensive books in the area of linguistic and literary semiotics: Emotive Signs in Language (John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1987) and A Feminist’s Semiotic Odyssey through Czech Literature (Edwin Mellen Press, New York, 1997). Between the years 1976 and 1992, Western publications appeared under the name “Volek.”
Among the main semiotic topics she has worked on are the structure of emotive meanings and signs; the difference between emotivity, expressivity, intensity and value; the typology of functions of linguistic repetition in Russian and Spanish dialogue; degrees and typology of emphasis in the area of Russian, Spanish and Czech syntax; semiotic interpretation of diminutives, augmentatives and other derived nouns in Russian and Czech, including their word-formational, lexicological and contextual aspects.
Her literary semiotic work focuses on issues of sexual relationships, responsibility, guilt, innocence, racism, nationalism, eurocentrism, relationship between private and public sphere, escape and vision, death and other emotive and value issues and their semiotic expression in the works of major Czech writers like Mácha, Kundera, Němcová, Čapek, Hašek, Vaculík, Hrabal, Havel and others. Another development of Volková’s linguistic theory of emotive language is her work on emotive signs in poetry, where she characterizes the poetics of individual authors and/or poems according to the types and frequency of emotive signs used. Much of her semiotic work has been written in English, reviewed world-wide and translated into Czech, German and Russian.
On both sides of the Atlantic she offers her collage and other art work in the form of exhibitions and via projections that accompany her poetry readings and her multimedia performances. Her art work appears as illustrations in her own and other poets’ books. She pursues the media of the collage both independently and in conjunction with her poetry. She works in post-modernist ways, commenting on other artists, social and philosophical topics, depicting the contrast between society and nature, focusing on dark and light visions of the world and creating imaginary landscapes. The collages explore a variety of different materials and physical dimensions.
Volková has mastered several different healing energies, including Reiki, Omega and Helix, which she uses during her teaching and energy-healing work, both as a hands-on and a long distance healing. Her energy work has also informed her art, poetry and multimedia performances.