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Roger Van de Velde

Roger Van de Velde (1925-1970) was a virtuoso word artist and an extraordinarily sharp observer of people and events. His talent was recognized by Willem Elsschot, who ensured that Van de Velde was able to make a start as a journalist. In his journalistic work he came down hard on injustice and wrote bittersweet articles full of empathy about tormented figures.

After a long medical ordeal that included numerous stomach operations, Van de Velde became addicted to the painkiller Palfium. Convicted of forging prescriptions, he found himself in prison and in psychiatric institutions. He spent six of the last eight years of his life behind bars, without anything being done about his addiction. In those distressing circumstances he wrote lucid, sober prose. Van de Velde’s writing was against the rules; his wife smuggled the closely written pages out with her. Shortly after he received the Ark Prize for the Free Word, his addiction finally proved fatal.

With his crystal-clear prose, Van de Velde influenced many Flemish authors. He is praised for his deeply felt sympathy for people on the margins of society and for the laconic humour with which he describes human shortcomings.

Photo © Collection Letterenhuis Antwerp