A Pause

I’m home drinking coffee from my new mug adorned by Magic the Bengal (a gift from the good folks at the Night Garden Project and Great Lakes Bengal Rescue). Look at those gorgeous eyes! If you’d like one, you can purchase one here.

Last night was the second annual Induction Ceremony for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. I’m tired, trying to catch my breath. It was wonderful event, and I am so proud to be a part of it, but truly it deserves its own post. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe when I can add photos by 8 eyes Photography. It’s so much better to have photos, and I was backstage the entire time and so unable to take any.

I still have so many things to catch up on. I attended an all-day seminar at the Art Institute for volunteers who teach in the schools. It was nice to be back at the Art Institute, to learn about some new and existing resources. I really don’t get down there enough. I also need to bring the kids downtown more often, to enjoy the incredible cultural treasures that Chicago has to offer.

The featured writers along with organizers, Sonya Arko and Anna Golash.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art had a wonderful reading series with some of my favorite Ukrainian writers/artists visiting from out of town: Askold Melnyczuk the novelist and founder of AGNI, and  Virlana Tkacz, a poet, writer, and the founder of the amazing Yara Arts Group. It was nice to just sit in the audience and listen.

Virlana Tkacz reading some of her poetry.

Also reading were Alexis Buryk and Roman Skaskiw. I really enjoyed their work, and especially appreciated the voice and characterization in Skaskiw’s writing.

Roman Skaskiw reading his fiction.

It was a mix of styles from writers new and seasoned. Though their voices and perspectives were different, I was struck by the repeating themes of identity, home, and authenticity.

As diaspora writers, we retain a collective memory and vision about our ancestral home–Ukraine. Many of us have been raised with an appreciation of our almost mythic motherland–its physical location, history, and achievement are praised and preserved. Yet we are also a part of a new world, an American reality, and there is a natural desire to also be a part of that world. So we stand on the threshold, between the old and new, longing for two things simultaneously.

In his introduction, Askold Melnyczuk mentioned that as writers, we often have themes or obsessions in our work. I think for me (at least right now) this idea of thresholds is an obsession: I’m fascinated by doorways in between worlds and realities, shades of gray in between the light and darkness, the places where the sacred and profane meet and cross.

“The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes an opposes two worlds–and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.” ~Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane

That’s the thing about thresholds: they suggest passage, possibility, transformation. A good story is a threshold, as is a good storyteller. They sweep us up in the complex beauty of words that are not truth but become true. We cross over and enter the world of a story, and if the writer is successful and if the reader is open, we bring a little of that world back with us.

Call for Ukrainian American Writers

Ukrainian American Writers: A New Generation of Literary Voices, will present their annual reading on November 5th, 2011 at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago.

Three writers will be selected to read their work through a juried reading process.  If you are a Ukrainian American writer and would like to submit your work for consideration, please send 3-5 poems or a 2-3 page excerpt from a short story, novel, or play that you would like to read via e-mail to [email protected].  Please include your name in the subject line, along with the genre of work you are sending.

Past readers will be considered, provided that new work is forwarded for review.

The submission period is June 1st through September 15, 2011, and selected writers will be contacted via e-mail by October 1st, 2011.

For more information please contact organizers Sonya Arko or Anna Golash at [email protected].

Незлим тихим словом (A kind, quiet word)

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.

Ukrainian American Literary Voices Reading at UIMA. Here we are pictured with the two organizers (Anna Golash and Sonya Arko) on opposite sides of the group.
Three of us had been students (at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian School) of the artist Alexandra Kochman. Pictured: George Wyhinny, Alexandra Kochman, Valya Dudycz-Lupescu, and Anya Antonovych-Metcalf

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.