Back in November, I was invited to participate in a reading of Ukrainian American writers at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago.
I’ll admit to being a bit nervous before the reading at UIMA. It was a new venue for me, and I was uncertain of the audience: Who would attend? How would the Ukrainians like my selection from The Silence of Trees?
Any anxiety was unfounded; the audience was gracious and enthusiastic. I even ran into a few people I hadn’t seen in years. I thoroughly enjoyed the readings by the other Ukrainian American writers: Anya Antonovych-Metcalf, Michael Beres, Ksenia Rychtycka, and George Wyhinny.
Such diverse voices, genres, and themes in our writing, and yet there were familiar echoes . . . of sacrifice, displacement, hope. There were references to Chernobyl, to WWII and the DP camps. Ukrainian words peppered the prose: familiar names and places.
As I listened to the other readings, I found myself thinking about our little sampling. Was there something that connected our work as Ukrainian American writers? Something that set us apart from other ethnic American poets, dramatists, novelists, artists?
Clearly our worldview and voices have been shaped by certain defining historical events of the 20th century. Shared traditions and language influence our imagery and help to define our characters. But what does it mean to be a Ukrainian American writer/artist in this day and age?
I didn’t come up with answers, only more questions. But I think that for writers and artists, questions can be better. They encourage us to seek, to stretch, to challenge, to uncover, to make connections. Questions fuel us. They certainly motivate me.
I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the event and happy for the time I had to chat with the other writers. I would have liked a few more hours to sit down with them around a large table, perhaps over coffee or tea, to talk about our inspiration and experiences. I look forward to the next time our paths cross, and I hope that it’s soon.