Vivian Stergiou (1992) is a short stories writer. Μπλε υγρό (Liquid Blue), her first collection, was published in 2017 and was awarded the Menis Koumantareas Prize. Her second short stories collection Δέρμα (Skin) was published in 2022. 

Vivian Stergiou by Dimitris Tairis1
©Dimitris Tairis

Your latest writing venture titled Skin was recently published by Polis. Tell us a few things about the book. What about its title?

It’s a collection of short stories. The stories are quite simple. The characters try to navigate through difficult decisions, like “where do I want to live?”, “should I migrate, because everyone does so?”, “do I look fat?” “do I behave properly online?”. So, you get the tone. I mean, I try to look at the surface of things, but also search for some depth in very typical and common situations, like a visit to the gynaecologist or a roommate meeting. Ι guess the title in English would be skin; the body is obviously important in my writing.  I wanted to explore things that are becoming taboo-like in our public discussions, such as the hierarchies due to attractiveness or fitness, so I focused on various awkward and hopefully funny situations where people totally misunderstand each other based on the looks or, maybe I just got obsessed with focusing on the material aspect of things that I really want to write about, but would otherwise ring vague, like desire or fear of death.

It gets easier for me to navigate towards such feelings by talking about the human body. This is linked to my own demons of course, very typical things, nothing special, like when you get to feel disconnected from your own body, because of the social pressures exercised upon your legs or face or femininity. And I also spent lots of time thinking about how humbling and even humiliating it is to have a body, because of sickness and death. So, I put such issues in the book and I picked the title because I love how the skin is this super weird organ that wants to be touched or that is constantly in touch with its surroundings. 

The book seems to be a kind of autobiography of the generation of ‘millenials’ with all its peculiarities, its frustrations, its weaknesses. How is this generation depicted in your literary writing? More generally, what is the interrelation between literature and its surrounding reality?

Thank you for the kind comment. Well, I was born in 1992, so trying to write things that I know and I care about, I guess I ended up trying to write my own story and the story of the people around me. Our generation, especially in the European South, is a generation that started to kind of understand the world during the financial crisis. So, there are certain topics that I touch upon repeatedly, such as migration to northern Europe or the need to exhibit “marketable skills” and sell them at super competitive markets. Of course, not all is dark, for example one of my favorite stories in the book is a story of two expat roommates cycling around in pouring rain. Nothing much happens and then they just decide to visit Berlin, because they don’t have much money to go to other places. I like to keep it close to reality. Needless to say, it’s a totally authoritative choice to focus on various aspects of the life of millennials; most of them are highly educated and poorly paid or super-rich Greek immigrants at a young age. So, it all turns back to the aspects of this generation’s life that I have access to, so I can be informed about it and then build on it to create the stories.

To me, literature is not about playing around with words. We turn to literature for solace, guidance, company and beauty and playing around with words can’t give you that. I see reality as the point of departure for creativity, (the body, a street, a cafe, a situation, say unemployment etc.) and then, sometimes, I introduce “cracks” of grotesque awkwardness and uncanny departures from realism because it makes it more fun. I love simple prose, easily accessible to people who say “normally I don’t read that much”. Literature cannot afford to be irrelevant or solipsistic, books are too important to be reduced to that. Speaking as a reader now, I would say I am very grateful to the writers who took the trouble to honestly look around them and expose the societies they were a part of. I also love the writers who expose themselves and go all in with telling their stories. You can understand it when they have put part of themselves in there, because it makes you feel connected to the world, it reduces your loneliness or the feeling of being lost; it’s like having spent time with a real person. At least that’s how it works for me as a reader and this, of course, permeates my writing. Frankly, I prefer at any given moment Joseph Roth or Lucia Berlin to any well written piece that manifests zero exposure, zero risk taking on behalf of its writer. 

Skin by Vivian Stergiou

"We are the generation that idealized living in your own separate world, having your own universe, being ‘an island’. But the consecutive crises caused an awakening”. Tell us more.

Yeah, I don’t know, I think calling young people indifferent or, at least, not attracted to politics is unfair. It happens a lot in Greece, but I am now convinced that it is not because young people don’t care about politics, it’s a failure on behalf of various institutions which in turn creates indifference or despair. Of course, we were told growing up that the big questions were history and that what waited ahead of us was only unlimited potential and the global markets that we should “conquer” (the analogy inspired my character Alexander the Great in Δέρμα, who is a London based expat-conqueror of the financial markets). Anyways, after a financial crisis, then a health crisis, then the environmental catastrophe etc. etc. I observe how both online and offline, left and right, young people try to take up action and voice the need for various changes. 

Technology and the way digital reality affects personal communication and interpersonal relations seems to be a focal point in the book. Would you say that, after all, “so many methods of communication end up to nullified probabilities”?

I have written this in a specific context, that of rejection. So, basically, there are two stories, δέρμα (same as the title) and πόδια ακρίδων where the narrator touches upon the feeling of being rejected. The first one is about the burning desire to touch the unconventionally attractive, bloated skin of a significant other (who is now absent because he needs “time and space”) and the other story is about being rejected by friends, who “ghost” you (ignore you online). So, this may be hard to deal with in our era, because you actually get to see the profiles of the persons who reject you, you see them online going about their lives and this may affect how you see yourself, your own body and your prospects of love and friendship. It can be quite painful and I know it sounds ridiculous. Technology creates this illusion of proximity to other persons, who might actually be very far away and know nothing about you. Technology can be of no help when you are in desperate need to be touched or hugged. And then I also wanted to explore how it makes you feel when you “stalk” people online or compulsively text them to get their approval or when you go online just to misunderstand them and write terrible things about them. I tried to do this in chapter 5, where I indulged in using sexist wording to manifest unfulfilled sexual desire.

Within this framework, what role do social media play in the way people read and write? How is language affected in this respect?

Yeah, unfortunately people fail to concentrate for long hours. This, I guess, makes it hard to enjoy Tolstoi and Dostoyevsky or other fat books which are superfun to read, so it’s a shame. It’s also sad that such technologies create the pressure to be available. Online toxicity is also awful, because it stays there and people see it and feel bad or want to respond to it and that’s sad. Thinking, writing and reading means turning off the device. I think everybody should do it quite often. Feeling boredom once in a while is good too. People are becoming impatient and this changes their expectations from works of art. But, there are some good things for you, like reading or walking a long distance, that, naturally, include some moments of boredom. It’s sad that many people consider “unhealthy” the feeling of boredom or insecurity or fear and grap the phone to scroll their “bad” thoughts away. I cannot say for sure how all this affects their reading preferences, though, or the language. There is an influx of new words due to technology and a different understanding of time and space, which for sure affects writing, reading and language, but I am not sure how. That’s why I write so much about technology, I guess, because it bothers me and I myself have so many questions about how it affects societies, languages and art.

Blue Liquid by Vivian Stergiou 1

For the majority of Greek writers, writing is not a main profession but rather a leisure time activity. In other words, earning a living through writing is the exception rather than the rule. Which are the main challenges new writers face nowadays in order to have their work published?

Well, writing is work. The fact that it is poorly paid, precarious work, does not turn it into a hobby. Many valuable things do not pay well. Think of the centuries of women exploitation which led to uncountable hours of unpaid cleaning and caregiving work. This having been said, Greece is a weird situation, because there is no serious system supporting the industry. So, I guess, it’s not about getting your work published, but about developing policies that will make the market work better and support publishing houses, bookstores, libraries, translators, readers and, yes, of course, writers. 

New writers face all sorts of challenges. Don’t want to elaborate much on this. But, one key problem “eating” creative persons from within is the myths around creativity, talent and success that make people think that they should be able to write very well at once, “enjoy it everyday”, reach whatever milestone they have set immediately or that they must network non-stop, because “if you are not well connected, you don’t get published”. Such things may lead you to shift focus away from reading, poor writing and spending lots of time alone, which is essential for doing the good writing (at least that’s how I see it and I am sure other people have different creative processes that work fine for them). Social media doesn’t help new writers/artists either, because it makes comparison so easy and such things can get in your head and ruin your creativity or authenticity. So, a simple piece of advice: lock the phone somewhere for a few hours, if you can afford it. Finally, of course, writing is a tiring, time-consuming process. That’s why financial support or fair remuneration is necessary, because, otherwise, writing will be an activity for the few. Only people who do not have to sell their time for a living or university professors who get paid to write will be able to do it. Imagine how boring the books would be!

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

The Corfu Trilogy is the unofficial name for three autobiographical books by British naturalist Gerald Durrell, giving humorous, exaggerated and sometimes fictionalised stories of the years that he lived as a child with his siblings and widowed mother on the Greek island of Corfu between 1935 and 1939. It consists of the popular classic My Family and Other Animals and its delightful sequels, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods.

Gerald Durrell The Corfu Trilogy 1

For Gerald, the budding zoologist, Corfu was a natural paradise, teeming with strange birds and beasts that he could collect, watch and care for. But life was not without its problems - his family often objected to his animal-collecting activities, especially when the beasts wound up in the villa or - even worse - the fridge. Indeed, Durrell's books are also a sardonic scientist's observations of family life, in which his relations appear as animals slightly disorientated by their alien habitat.

The trilogy makes the reader privy to the riotous yet endearing antics of Durrell's unforgettable siblings: there's bossy Larry's love of literature (he went on to write the celebrated Alexandria Quartet), Leslie's obsession with guns and sister Margo with her acne and fashion magazines, all set against the incongruous reserve of their English mother.

With hilarious yet endearing portraits of his family and their many unusual hangers-on, The Corfu Trilogy also captures the beginnings of the author's lifelong love of animals, thereby explaining his later pre-eminence as a naturalist and zookeeper. The procession of toads, scorpions, snakes, spiders, owls, pigeons, geckos, ladybugs, glow-worms, octopuses and mantids marches through all three books.

Recounted with immense humour and charm, this wonderful account of Corfu's natural history reveals a rare, magical childhood. Gerald Durrell evokes his island paradise with passion and wonder. As eloquently put by the New York Times review, The Corfu Trilogy is 'a delightful book full of simple, well-known things: cicadas in the olive groves, lamp fishing at night, the complexities of fish and animals - but, above all, childhood moulded by these things'.

Gerald Durrell Childhood in Corfu 2

The author

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995) moved from England to Corfu with his family when he was eight. He spent much of his time studying the island's wildlife and surprising his family by keeping lots of very unusual pets in very unexpected places. He grew up to be a famous naturalist and conservationist, leading expeditions to exotic places such as Argentina, Sierra Leone, Assam and Madagascar. Durrell dedicated his life to the preservation of wildlife, especially the less glamorous kinds, which he called 'little brown jobs' and 'small uglies'. It is through his efforts that creatures such as the Mauritius pink pigeon and the Mallorcan midwife toad have avoided extinction.

Over his lifetime he presented many TV shows, and wrote thirty-seven books, including My Family and Other Animals and its two sequels, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods. He founded Jersey Zoo in 1959 as a centre for the conservation of endangered species, and in 1963 created the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust - later renamed Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in his honour - of which his wife, Lee, is still Honorary Director. He was awarded the OBE in 1982.

A.R.

Read also: Meet "The Durrells" in Idyllic Corfu!

On 18 October 1979, one of Greece’s major poets, Odysseus Elytis, was awarded with the Noble Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy declared in its presentation that Elytis’ poetry "depicts with sensual strength and intellectual clearsightedness, modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness…[In] its combination of fresh, sensuous flexibility and strictly disciplined implacability in the face of all compulsion, Elytis' poetry gives shape to its distinctiveness, which is not only very personal but also represents the traditions of the Greek people".

odysseas elytis

Elytis was perhaps the first modern great poet who embraced surrealism as a poetic inspiration. He felt that surrealism heralded a return to magical sources which rationalism had calcified; it represented a plunge into the wellsprings of fantasy and dream, a free-flowing clustering of images creating its own shapes.  The broad perspective of an open mind and a vital, concrete bond with the archetypal gestures of life, magical surrealism and unbroken Hellenic substance merge in poetry to form painfully illuminating images of Mediterranean existence.

BODY OF SUMMER

A long time has passed since the last rain was heard
Above the ants and lizards
Now the sun burns endlessly
The fruit paints its mouth
The pores in the earth open slowly
And beside the water that drips in syllables
A huge plant gaze into the eye of the sun.
 
Who is he that lies on the shores beyond
Stretched on his back, smoking silver-burnt olive leaves?
Cicadas grow warm in his ears
Ants are at work on his chest
Lizards slide in the grass of his armpits
And over the seaweed of his feet a wave rolls lightly
Sent by the little siren that sang:
 
O body o summer, naked, burnt
Eaten away by oil and salt
Body of rock and shudder of the heart
Great ruffling wind in the osier hair
Beneath of basil above the curly pubic mound
Full of stars and pine needles
Body, deep vessel of the day!
 
Soft rains come, violent hail
The land passes lashed in the claws of snow-storm
Which darkens in the depths with furious waves
The hills plunge into the dense udders of the clouds
And yet behind all this you laugh carefree
And find your deathless moment again
And the sun finds you again in the sandy shores
As the sky finds you again in your naked health.

[Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard]

Transcendent, mystical, slangy, laconic, rhetorical, Odysseus Elytis is first of all a poet whose unique strength is the celebration of a landscape that is his protean theme, his finest invention. This terrain is both his beloved Greece and the human body, a vision rooted in the past and passionately imagined in a kind of floating, timeless present. “Body of Summer” is a free-verse poem of four stanzas. The poem can be divided in half: The first two stanzas describe a landscape in the voice of a third-person narrator; the last two stanzas address the personified landscape directly in the song of the “little siren.”

Through surreal, Elytis infused spirit into the material world. Through personification he molded the abstract into concrete forms. The animate inanimate is found in fruit which paint their mouths in summer heat and transform into earth's swelling pores. Summer itself is a boy stretched out on the shore while "Cicadas grow warm in his ears/ Ants are at work on his chest/ Lizards slide in the grass of his armpits/ And over the seaweed of his feet a wave rolls lightly". Infused with light and idyllic joy, these are images of hope, joy, and sensuality, bathed in the light that has become the trademark of a poetry free of the sentimentality.

A.R.

Read also: POEM OF THE MONTH: A Tribute to Odysseus Elytis and his Chef d' Oeuvre 'The Axion Esti'

A new website “The CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature: a bibliography for the English-speaking world” was presented at an online event on April 5, 2022. The CENSUS is an international project aiming to facilitate access to Greek literature for speakers of English by providing references to all English-language translations of modern Greek literature and to all studies in English that relate to modern Greek literature. Its bibliographic collection aims to function as a standard work of reference for students and faculty in Modern Greek Studies, as a guide to translators, and an innovative resource for libraries building collections in Hellenic Studies. In this framework, the CENSUS hopes to open a new window on Greek literature of the last nine centuries and provides a vital portal to modern Greek literature for an English-speaking audience.

CENSUS3

The CENSUS may be called the ‘iTunes’ of modern Greek literature, because the indexing in the project allows readers/users of the website to delve deep into the contents of collective volumes or issues of journals, and to discover there the individual works (translations or studies) — each literary work or study listed with its particular author, the translator(s), and its precise range of pages. The CENSUS stands alone as an independent platform, but it also provides links through to standard databases, such as the catalogues of the Library of Congress, the National Library of Greece, the international VIAF.org organization. Furthermore, wherever possible, links from the entries on the CENSUS website lead directly to online sources where the actual texts (translations or studies) can be found and read.

Reading Greece spoke to Professor Dia Philippides, Professor Emerita, Department of Classical Studies, Boston College, who compiled the original version of the CENSUS and currently runs the project with a team of international collaborators, about its scope and objectives, its various sections as well as its short and long-term initiatives.

The CENSUS was recently launched aiming to facilitate access to Greek literature for speakers of English. What’s the story behind this so ambitious project?

The ‘CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature’ has a long history. The CENSUS began in response to an expressed need in teaching. In the early 1980s, George P. Savidis, the first incumbent of the new George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies at Harvard, planned to introduce a course on modern Greek literature to the university’s Core curriculum. At the time, sufficient bibliography was lacking, especially regarding sources -- English translations of primary works and related works of criticism and interpretation available in English. Working then as George Savidis’ junior faculty colleague, I undertook the challenge of compilation, assembling for that purpose a team of Harvard students.

In 1985 the transition to a new teaching position brought the CENSUS along with me to Boston College. In 1990 the CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature (the title is an acronym for Check-list of ENglish-Language Sources Useful in the Study of Modern Greek Literature) appeared as a print monograph of 250 pages, published by the Modern Greek Studies Association. We originally used the term ‘check-list’, as we felt like neophytes in comparison with true bibliographers, such as Dimitris Daskalopoulos or Evro Layton.

A significant landmark for the CENSUS came in 2016, with a new collaboration with the Boston College Libraries that lasted for two years (2016-2018). During that time, the basis was set for the development of a custom-designed database and website for the CENSUS, starting with the section that is now completed: “Greek Authors 19th-21st centuries”. With my retirement from Boston College in 2018, the CENSUS became independent, seeking new partners.

Since the beginning of 2020 the CENSUS has benefitted from the support of the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation. A new collaboration with the University of Amsterdam was established — specifically, with the University’s Marilena Laskaridis Chair of Modern Greek Studies and the Dept. of Modern Greek Language and Culture, where Endowed Prof. Maria Boletsi assembled for us a team of researchers that she and we agree on calling the ‘dream team’. The Amsterdam team includes: Anthi Argyriou and Yiorgos-Evgenios Douliakas, both PhD candidates at the School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and Dr Haralampos Passalis, Guest Lecturer at the Dept. of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Amsterdam. 

I have been remiss in not mentioning until now the current core team of colleagues that has been contributing to the CENSUS longer-term in Boston: Wim Bakker, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, University of Amsterdam; Ben Florin, Senior Library Applications Developer in the Boston College Libraries; Peter Klapes, Boston College M.A. in Philosophy. With the combined contributions of these (and other) colleagues we completed the “Greek Authors of the 19th-21st centuries” section online, and in April 2022 we opened the website to users. I use the term “we” intentionally: such a large multi-faceted project depends on the good collaboration of many contributors from distinct disciplines and on vital support from outside sources.

What about the scope and main goals of the project?

As mentioned before, the ‘CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature’ aims to facilitate access to Greek literature for speakers of English by providing references to all published English-language translations of modern Greek literature and to all published studies in English that relate to modern Greek literature from the twelfth century AD to the present.

In its prospective audience, the CENSUS aims to function as a standard work of reference for students and faculty in Modern Greek Studies, as a guide to translators, and an innovative resource for libraries building collections in Hellenic Studies. It also hopes to attract greater numbers of scholars (in other disciplines), editors, publishers, and general readers everywhere in the English-speaking world to the contemporary literature of Greece.

The CENSUS should be of interest [1] to those seeking to establish the extent of the diaspora of modern Greek literature in the major language of the Western world and [2] also to those seeking to familiarize themselves with modern Greek literature but lacking the necessary skills to read it in its original language. 

Tell us a few things about the “Greek Authors 19th-21st centuries” section.

This section, the first on the new CENSUS website, includes references to 800 Greek literary authors (in approximately 7,000 entries). The timespan covered coincides roughly with the 200 years since the Greek Revolution of 1821 that led to the foundation of the modern Greek state – a bicentennial richly celebrated worldwide in 2021. The CENSUS team aims (now) – initially -- to share our record of the literary production of Greek literary authors during these two centuries, and – thereafter -- to broaden out from there, into other aspects of modern Greek literature of interest to speakers of English.

For each of these authors we record references to his/her works that have been published in English translation and to related works of criticism and interpretation that have been published in English. For each author we can provide visualization in the form of counts and as a timeline presenting the works ‘by’ and ‘about’ him/her. The underlying data is available in our database, and we hope soon to be able to present further visualization in the form of maps.

We note that the first presentation of the website (April 5, 2022), with the launch of the “Greek Authors 19th-21st centuries”, was sponsored by the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation among its activities within the framework of the ‘Initiative 1821-2021’ (protovoulia21.gr) for the celebration of Greece’s bicentennial in 2021.

A video of the first presentation will soon be posted.

CENSUS Team

What is to be expected by CENSUS both in the short term and the long term?

In the short term, the CENSUS team aims to expand the “Greek Authors 19th-21st centuries” section, continuously adding newly discovered references to texts published in print and also links to materials posted online — translations or studies in text-format but also websites where audiovisual materials (e.g., recorded readings, podcasts, lectures, etc.) related to modern Greek literature (in English) may be found.

The next section for data-entry and posting on the CENSUS website is “Literary History 19th-21st centuries”. This new section provides the background — theoretical and actual — against which the individual Greek literary authors of the 19th-21st centuries should be viewed.

Then will follow the rest of ‘Literary History’ (general works — in English — on modern Greek literature from the 12th century to today, and also the texts and studies of early modern Greek literature, up through the 18th century). Finally the two last sections will follow: Anthologies and Bibliographic Sources. We must note that we already have the (huge) collection of CENSUS references organized in book format, and we hope to publish the collection as a book, in tandem with the CENSUS website.

In the longer term, we aim at a panegyric release in ca. two years from now, of the full CENSUS. Up to that time and during the years immediately thereafter, we shall continue to promote collaboration and issues of sustainability, so that the project may become secure to last and continue to expand far into the future.

____________

1516542266796Dia Philippides, now Prof. Emerita from Boston College, was born in the US of parents who met doing war relief in Greece in the mid-1940s, graduated from high school at Pierce College in Athens, and then completed undergraduate studies in Applied Mathematics at Harvard and a doctorate in Classical Philology at Princeton University. Her first teaching position was at Harvard (Lecturer and Preceptor of Modern Greek Studies, 1978-1985, in connection with the new George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies in the Dept. of the Classics), her second at Boston College (Dept. of Classical Studies, 1985-2018, where she became Full Professor and for five years held the title of Research Professor). She has published books on the metrics of ancient Greek tragedy and computer analysis of literary works of the Cretan Renaissance (chiefly The Sacrifice of Abraham and Erotokritos). Her longest-term project is the ‘CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature’, an international collaborative bibliographic work, discussed in the present interview and still a ‘work-in-progress’, though new results were recently launched online.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Rhea Galanaki was born in Heraklion, Crete in 1947. She studied History and Archaeology in Athens. She has published novels, short stories, poems and essays. She’s been twice awarded the Greek National Book Award (in 1999 for her novel Eleni, or Nobody and in 2005 for her short- story collection An Almost Blue Hand). She has also received the Athens Academy Award For Prose (in 2003, for her novel The Age of Labyrinths), the Nikos Kazantzakis Award of the Heraklion Municipality in 1987 and the National Book Center of Greece Readers’ Award in 2006 for her fictional biography Silent, Deep Waters.

Rhea Galanaki INTRO2

Ηer novel The Ultimate Humiliation received the Balkanika Literary Award in 2019, while its French edition was nominated for the Prix Méditerranée Étranger (2017). Her novel The Life of Ishmael Ferik Pasha is the first Greek book to have been included in the Unesco Collection of Representative Works (1994), while Eleni, or Nobody was shortlisted for the Aristeion Prize (1999). Her books have been translated into seventeen languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Czech, Bulgarian, Swedish, Lithuanian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Albanian, Catalan and Ukranian.

Your latest writing venture Εμμανουήλ και Αικατερίνη. Τα παραμύθια που δεν είναι παραμύθια [Emmanuil and Aikaterini. Takes that are not tales] has just been published by Kastaniotis. Tell us a few things about the book.

Emmanuil and Aikaterini are the names of my parents who were well-known doctors in Heraklion, Crete, having studied during the interwar in Athens, Bordeaux and Vienna. Their origin was rural, a fact that brought me in contact with the countryside from an early age. Years after the death of my parents, I attempt to find out who these known-unknown parents (as all parents are to a great extent) were, especially before they got married, before we met them, before we were in conflict. From where and from whom, that is, they had drawn that burden of cultures, mentalities, behaviors, even an aspect of history, that they inevitably bequeathed to me. It should be noted that at that time people rarely talked about their personal lives.

Only now, at a mature age, and having almost fifty years of literary presence behind me, did I dare to decipher their remains, to recall old narratives, to look at pre-war photos hoping that they will give me some answers. In other words, I was reflected through their own mirrors in order to understand my self even deeper. Needless to say, much of Greek history goes through the book. As for the subtitle Tales that are not tales, it states exactly this literary point of view.

Novels, short story collections, poems, essays within a period of more than forty years. What brought you to writing and which continues to be your driving force?

I have been writing since I was a child, like other kids draw. But I was late in publishing – in fact at a difficult time in my life under dictatorship, I burned all my writings. A little later I started again, and gradually I started publishing. This was and continues to be my way of seeing, remembering, telling stories, thinking, judging, asking questions about everything that happens within the soul and in society. By writing literature, I naturally focus on human adventure. Let me add that I read a lot, regarding reading as a lifelong necessary apprenticeship for every writer, apart of course from the joy and knowledge it offers. Alas to anyone who claims that what he/she once learned, are enough for ever. I was young when wrote poetry but it was the novel that dominated over time. To me it is perhaps the most complicated, the most demanding and the most challenging literary genre. It was as a novelist that I became more widely known and translated into various languages. As for the driving force that you asked me about: but, of course, life itself.

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It’s painful to choose which topic to write about, to make it more specific, to start researching, to make things within you and then turn them into literature. Because literature is not the things you find. It’s the way you ferment them. Which were the main issues you delve into in your books? Would you say that there are recurrent points of reference from one book to the next?

I was motivated by the emotion caused by the dramatic life of some almost forgotten historical figures (obviously because at some points I identified with their lives), which is why my first novels focused on them, renewing the so-called "historical novel" according to reputable critics. And let me repeat that in my opinion "History is politics in the long run". In the novels that followed, I dealt with major events of recent decades in Greece (rise of anti-Semitism or fascism, economic crisis and its consequences), writing books of pure fiction. I also wrote a non-fiction novel about a notorious kidnapping in Crete. I focused on female characters, or rather on the relationship of women with their family, social and historical environment and thus their love affairs – given that there has never been a “woman” cut off from the umbilical cord of society and the historical moment she lives in, neither without the relationships that she weaves, or that are woven, around her.

Loss, an unattainable homecoming, the diffusion of the invisible into the visible, identity, the embrace of myth and life, the relationship-conflict of different mentalities and cultural backgrounds are issues that have always concerned me. In Emmanuil and Aikaterini Ι clearly refer to my own life for the first time, yet trying to focus on what is related to my subject, namely the search for the remote origin, the ‘known-unknown’ parents.

What about language? What role does language play in your writings?

Literature is the art of speech. It is also known that the highest form of any national language belongs to its literature. I personally edit and re-edit my writings various times. All those who write do so in their own way. Beware, however, when we say language we don’t mean either any verbal coquetries or a text that is incomprehensible in the name of an allegedly exhaustively processed language.

Literature is addressed to the reader, and thus should be able to be read, regardless of how each era likes to “read”. After all, "language" is not the surface of words and syntax, it is all the meanings and notions and uses that each word carries - even over time for good divers, whether writers or readers…I reckon that, in the final analysis, language is just an element among dozens of others that only when combined and balanced (regardless of schools and trends), can create an interesting literary result.

Do you agree with those who argue that Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives?

I certainly don’t agree and I don’t know why such rumors are cultivated. The exact opposite happens. Let me say it as a writer who has been honored with both a State Novel Award and a State Short Story Award. Both are flourishing nowadays in Greece, each having its readers. Respective requirements are of course different, but they remain first-degree relatives. To make things easier, I reckon that a short story is more like a short film, while a novel is like full-length film. I respect them both very much.

Readers always love what relates deeply to them, what helps them expand their sensitivity and knowledge, which does not ‘reflect’ the so-called reality – even the so-called History – but dares to look behind their deceptive mirrors”. How does literature relate to the world it inhabits? Could it be used to imagine what could be radically different realities?

Writers closely observe themselves and the world, the society that surrounds them. But this first and direct image should not be enough. They should be able to "see behind the mirror". Because literature, art in general, provides the creator with a distinct potential. In other words, literature has the ability to abolish in its own right the limits that daily life sets. It is almost an entry permit from one "closed room" to another, for example from historical time to the present and from the present to the past, from myth to reality and vice versa, from the visible to the invisible, and so on. It thus delves beyond the surface of things given that it can do so in its own way, in order to offer a deeper understanding of the human soul, the social condition.

I honestly don’t know if literature can be used to imagine radically different realities, at least nowadays that many utopias have collapsed. At least it helps us have a deep knowledge of the surrounding reality, and perhaps "go one step further", especially at a time when the international community seems to be walking on quicksand again due to its revisionist stance on history and the international consequences of the Russian invasion.

Rhea Galanaki BOOKS FINAL

What role are writers called to play in times of crisis? How has both the recent socio-economic crisis as well as the current pandemic affected you both as a writer and as a reader?

During the repeated quarantines I got down to work and went on with Emmanuil and Aikaterini. Tales that are not tales, which I had started but given up, because its theme (the real family and relationships) is quite difficult and harrowing. If it weren't for the lockdown, I might not have finished it. A few years earlier, I had written a purely fictional novel titled The Ultimate Humiliation focusing on the Athens of the crisis; in fact, during the most emblematic night of demonstrations in February 2012, when many historic buildings in central Athens were set on fire. For me, literature is a way for the writer to organize his/her thoughts and feelings in his/her own way of writing, as well as to ask questions as a sensitive observer, and share all the above with his reader. This is more or less its "role", if there is indeed such a thing.

How would you comment on current literary production in Greece? Do Greek writers have the potential to move beyond national borders and be translated abroad?

Contemporary Greek literature is exquisite. It has nothing to envy from the literature of those few countries which somehow define the literary canon because they are written in international languages. From time to time, transparent institutional efforts have been made in Greece so that worthy Greek literature is translated and thus promoted in foreign languages. Other countries have established very strong and permanent mechanisms for the translation and promotion of their national literature. Here the efforts I mentioned unfortunately stopped, but recently a new effort has begun.Let’s hope they are met with success. In addition, there are no organized agencies in Greece with the exception of individual cases or by publishing houses themselves, and this is again in stark contrast to what happens in linguistically strong countries.

Personally speaking (since I have been translated into 17 languages), this in most cases happened by chance, that is, someone who knew Greek really liked a book of mine, a foreign publisher was found, usually small, and that’s how things went on. But no, this is not the right way, we all know that, which is why contemporary Greek literature is largely unknown abroad. The Greek language is a big obstacle, few people know it. May the efforts made nowadays be successful, may other agents outside Greece help as much as possible for a better result.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

HoughtonThe exhibition and conference "Art Communicating Conflict Resolution" will take place in Thessaloniki in the summer of 2022, exploring art’s possible positive effects on conflict resolution efforts.

The art exhibition, featuring works by 39 internationally-renowned artists, will open on June 29 at the Casa Bianca, home to the Municipal Art Gallery of Thessaloniki, with the support of Thessaloniki Mayor Konstantinos Zervas and Thessaloniki Deputy Mayor of Culture and Tourism Maria Karagianni, and it will run through July 31, 2022.

Also, on June 30, a one-day conference will be held, sponsored by the UNESCO Chair of Intercultural Policy for an Active Citizenship and Solidarity, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, with the theme "Art Communicating Conflict Resolution: An Intercultural Dialogue".

Finally, on July 1, the program features organized visits and tours of Thessaloniki’s historic archeological and Byzantine sites, including museums, Byzantine churches, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, archeological museums and sites.

The exhibition and conference are organized as part of Conflict and Art, an international initiative led by Vasia Deliyianni, a curator and artist based in Washington, DC. The project has been inspired by the book Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts? (Frame Publishers, 2018) –a collaboration between Professor Jerry Wind at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Professors Noam Latar and Ornat Lev-Er at IDC Herzliya University in Israel–, which constitutes a pioneering survey on the question: "can art aid in conflict resolution and therefore reduce global tensions and human suffering?".

As part of the survey, the authorsspoke with more than 100 leading and emerging architects, artists, curators, choreographers, composers, and directors of art institutions around the globe, exploring the potentially constructive role of the arts in conflict resolution.

art conflict1Left: Eleni Fotiadou, born and lives in Greece; Right: Babis Venetopoulos, born and lives in Greece

The art exhibition will feature works by 39 artists, including: activist and multimedia artist Adeela Suleman from Pakistan, renowned journalist, author and activist Asra Q. Nomani, born in India and living in the United States, and media artist Dor Guez from Israel. They also include: architect and educator Theodore Spyropoulos from the United Kingdom, Maria Karametou from the United States, and Valerio Rocco Orlando from Italy.

The exhibition also features artists from Greece and Cyprus, including: audiovisual and installation artist Eleni Fotiadou, painter Yiannis Fokas, and digital artist Babis Venetopoulos from Thessaloniki, and artists Melina Shukuroglou, Vicky Pericleous, and Efi Savvides from Cyprus. And, in a special feature, the exhibition includes a collection of photographs from eight artists from Oman.

Arguably the most iconic of the exhibits is "The Struggle Series" by iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela. Some of these artists had also been featured in an earlier exhibition called "Art: Key to Conflict Resolution" –also curated by Vasia Deliyianni as part of her Conflict and Art project– which was hosted at the at the Serafeio Athletic & Community Complex of the City of Athens in July 2019.

You can view the full program for the Thessaloniki exhibition and conference here, and register here.

Greek News Agenda spoke* with curator and museum specialist Vasia Deliyianni about the "Conflict and Art" initiative, the special meaning of Thessaloniki as its current host-city and the potential power of art in a world marred by conflict.

MandelaNelson Mandela (1918-2013), anti-apartheid revolutionary and first president of South Africa

You had already curated the exhibition "Art: Key to Conflict Resolution", which was hosted at the Serafeio Athletic & Community Complex of the City of Athens in July 2019, featuring works by 23 visual artists. Would you say that this is a version 2.0 of the original exhibition?

Our new exhibit in Thessaloniki in the summer of 2022 is a continuation of the Conflict and Art project that started with the publication of the book, Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts? and the curation of our exhibit in 2019 in Athens. The exhibition was tremendously successful in Athens and very well attended. With the world, we faced the challenges of COVID-19 and our emergence in Thessaloniki is testimony to the resilience of the human souls –and artists– in facing adversity. We plan to have our always-evolving exhibit on permanent travel in different countries, including Cyprus, Israel, France, and the United States.

In which ways was the project inspired by the book Can Art Aid in Resolving Conflicts? and what more does it bring to the table, especially with regard to Greek contemporary artistic production?

I was inspired by the theme of the book, which poses an ever-present question about whether art can aid in resolving conflict. Overwhelmingly, artists of all types answered the question in the affirmative –with a resounding "Yes"– illustrating through their work that art offers us an alternative to conflict resolution when other avenues, such as politics, cannot mediate conversations or offer solutions. The arts can be the vehicle to communication and understanding. From there, a lot of conflict resolution can happen.

As a curator, I was also inspired by the amazing work of the international visual artists and activists in the book, not to mention the musicians, architects, museum specialists, actors, and others also featured in the book. I got the approval and blessing of the authors to contact the visual artists in the book, and I started work on the 2019 exhibit in Greece and then this 2022 exhibit in Thessaloniki, accompanied by the book’s launch and conferences and roundtable discussions around the themes in the book.

Greece, as the land of democracy, is the appropriate place for these exhibits. Greek artists in the Diaspora and at home in Greece have long been dealing with these issues. Yes, art can be political, and Greeks care deeply about democracy and freedom, human rights, and justice. While they address issues of conflict and suggest conflict resolutions, Greek artists also need more international exposure. With this exhibition, we will amplify their work to the world expose them to different audiences. Greece is the host of some of the most powerful, imaginative, and innovative artists I have ever met, and it is an honor to work with them.

Evgenia KimEvgenia Kim, born in Uzbekistan, former USSR from Korean parents, lives in the USA

Does the rich multicultural history of the city of Thessaloniki bring an added value to the upcoming project?

It is very poignant for me to bring this exhibit to Thessaloniki. It is the city of my birth, and it has been the crossroad of many civilizations, with layers and layers of different cultures, religions, languages built upon each other. It is my honor as a daughter of Thessaloniki to bring this exhibit to our city.

The Greeks of Thessaloniki are multicultural and multilingual, and for the last two decades, they have been highly exposed to waves of refugees, offering them harbor in a very humane way. As a witness to conflict throughout history and as a locale often in conflict itself, Thessaloniki is the perfect place to host this profound exhibit and conference and communicate a simple and important message of conflict resolution.

Since ancient times, the people of Thessaloniki have been communicating through the visual arts, theater, music, and dance. In modern times, the city is rapidly growing culturally, and our exhibit embodies the richness and depth of our city today, at the crossroads of civilization.

TekleabKebedech Tekleab, born in Ethiopia, lives in the USA

At a moment in history when conflicts have deep and tragic effects on several societies very close to us, could someone be deemed a hopeless romantic for counting on the peacemaking power of art?

The romantics are more pragmatic sometimes, because they believe they can accomplish successes others do not even try to do. In the 1990s, I started curating art exhibits for the World Bank to complement the World Bank’s bold mission of international development, and I have seen how a financial institution can effectively use the power of the arts to communicate its messages for building human capacity.

Over the last decade, we have heard a lot about "art and diplomacy" and "cultural diplomacy" in Washington, DC, a seat of power to the world. We have heard: "Works of art can be ambassadors of our deepest collective wisdom." For example, the Art in Embassies program, run by the US Department of State, reaches 189 nations and is "engaged globally", placing artworks in US embassies.

The arts are not the perfect way to solve conflict by far, but we must try this tool to complement politics and diplomacy. In his address at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on filmmakers to confront dictators, just as the American actor Charlie Chaplin satirized Adolf Hitler. President Zelensky referred to films, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, as speaking truth to power.

MaggiJacqueline Maggi, born in Cuba, lives in the USA

On March 31, 2022, the United Nations Chamber Music Society presented a Concert for Peace for Ukraine, among hundreds of concerts happening around the world, including inside Ukraine, using the power of music to sensitize the globe about the horrors of the war in Ukraine. "Music binds us together in these darkest moments. Through compassion and solidarity, the musicians of UN Chamber Music Society will perform a Concert for Peace for Ukraine", the United Nations said, in promoting the concert.

We need to use everything we have got when it comes to resolving war and realizing peace. Our group – Conflict and Art – is using the arts in the hopes that the arts will help people communicate more effectively, understanding each other better, hopefully resolving conflicts and sharing each other’s humanity in sacred spaces such as Thessaloniki, Greece. We hope all who are able can join us in Greece. Please register at conflictandart.com, and if you cannot join us in person, please join us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at @ConflictAndArt. Thank you!

*Interview by Nefeli Mosaidi (Intro photo: Sisavanh Houghton, born in Laos, immigrated to Thailand, lives in the USA)

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Early Christian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki; Three religions meet in the Castle of Ioannina

On the occasion of the National Day of Portugal celebrated on 10th June, the Ambassador of Portugal in Greece, Helena Paiva, spoke to Greek News Agenda about what unites the two countries in terms of culture, the main cultural initiatives and events organized by the Embassy of Portugal in Greece during 2022, as well about the role of culture in fostering understanding between the two countries and its peoples.

Foto Ambassador Helena Paiva

Helena Paiva was born in Mozambique in 1966. She studied Law at the Law Faculty of Lisbon and joined the Portuguese Foreign Service in 1991. In 2006 she was director of the Department of International Political Organizations of the General Directorate of Multilateral Affairs. She has served as an Ambassador in Namibia (2014), Cabo Verde (2016) and Greece (2020).

You have been in Greece for more than two years as head of the Portuguese diplomatic mission. Which are the major priorities you have set as well as the main challenges you have been faced with so far?

My main priorities are to enhance cooperation and understanding at all levels between our two countries and peoples, to foster political, cultural, economic, and commercial ties and in general to promote Portugal in Greece. The challenge is to convince Greeks to look to the other southern corner of Europe, when they think of doing business, invest, or simply choosing a relaxing vacation. The Portuguese have already discovered the marvels of Greece, we want the Greeks to discover Portugal.

The Embassy’s cultural programme for 2022 is quite rich, incorporating events vis-à-vis language, literature, art, and so on. Could you elaborate on its scope and content?

Regarding Culture we are very ambitious on the goals we want to achieve. Our main perspective is to promote the Portuguese culture on a diversified way. We started the year promoting the World Day of the Portuguese Language, which is celebrated every 5th of May by decision of UNESCO, and we chose Literature in order get close to the Greek public. We also gave special attention to Portuguese Cinema supporting the XII Avant-garde Film Festival of Athens, the 2nd Portuguese Film Festival Portugal Now, that will take place on Bios Cultural Centre and later this year we will promote a special programme, in association with the Greek Film Archive, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of José Saramago.

But there is more. Having in mind the United Nations Conference on Oceans that will be held in Lisbon, from 27th of June to 1st of July, we will organize a special concert dedicated to the Oceans that will be held on July 1st on Bios Cultural Center. We’ve named this project Mar é Thalassa, Thalassa é Mar and we will have the honour of listening to Greek artist singing in Portuguese and Greek songs about the Seas. I hope I can see much of your audience there. You are all invited.

Lunch with President Sakellaropoulou

Portuguese is a language that bears aromas from all over the world, songs from the peoples around the globe”, as renowned Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis has eloquently put it. Tell us a few things about the recently inaugurated Biblioteca Ulisseia which operates within the Portuguese Embassy.

Portuguese is a language spoken by 250 million people in all continents. It´s being taught in Greece at the University of Athens. The Ulisseia Library is a project to address the increasing numbers of Greeks that are learning Portuguese. It was inaugurated this year on April 13 at the Embassy of Portugal. This new library provides books in Portuguese language available to the Portuguese community and to all Portuguese speakers in Greece. 

It has around 500 books from different areas, which can be requested by the readers who want to enjoy them. The Ulisseia Library catalog is available at the following link:  https://www.libib.com/u/biblioteca-ulisseia. The opening hours of the Ulisseia Library are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 am to 5 pm.

We hope with this initiative to promote Portuguese literature and to make available more works in Portuguese that might help Portuguese language students, especially those students who are learning Portuguese at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

On its part, Portuguese literature has been increasingly popular among Greek readers with more than eighty book titles already translated in Greek. What is that makes Portuguese writers so appealing in Greece? How important in the role of translation in this respect?

Greek readers have a unique quality in Europe, they are always interested in getting to know different cultures, languages, and writers. In that sense, Portuguese writers can also be present to Greek readers as a different way of writing, with a much diversified and culturally rich literature. Translation plays a special role in this link between writers and readers; they are the bridge builders that connect the author’s work with the Greek public. We have been talking with different translators and editorial houses here in Greece and I think we will continue to have more books from Portuguese writers available for Greek readers.   

Opening of Ulisseia Library

To use the words of the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa “The sea with an end can be Greek or Roman: the endless sea is Portuguese”. Both being countries of the European South geographically located at the two different ends of Europe, what do the two countries have in common, and where do they diverge?

Portugal and Greece have much in common. We tend to appreciate the same good things in Life, family and friends around a table, the sun, the sea, a very rich gastronomy. Our two countries are on two crossroads determined by History and Geography. I think we only diverge on the nature of the influences that determine our way of thinking. Whereas in Portugal we are influenced by the Atlantic, Africa and the Portuguese speaking countries in Greece we notice the influence of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East.

More important we like each other: Portuguese love being in Greece and Greeks love being in Portugal.

How crucial is the contribution of culture to fostering understanding between the two countries and its peoples? What role is cultural diplomacy called to play in an increasingly globalized world?

Culture is of paramount importance in the relations between Portugal and Greece. It’s a very important way of getting our two peoples connected. In this way cultural diplomacy has a very special role to play since it can pave the way for students, professors, artists, public institutions, universities, enterprises and entrepreneurs to get to know each other and foster cooperation between our two equally rich and interesting societies.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity, and I hope that our Portuguese National Day, on June 10, will be an excellent moment seized by Greek and Portuguese to understand a little more about Portugal and Greece.    

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Panagiotis Chatzimoisiadis was born in 1970 in Dytiko, Pella. He works as a high school teacher. He received the Special National Prize for Literature 2021. He has published the following books: the short story collection Three Memories and Two Lives (Metaixmio, 2005), the novella Good is What you Find (Kedros, 2006), the novel Τhe Tale of Sleep (Metaixmio, 2008), the novel Hardware Failure (Metaixmio, 2010) the short story collection Fire Zone (Metaixmio 2014), the short prose Μy Private Pronoun (Kichli, 2018), the novel Medical Expenses (Enypnio, 2020), the novel The Snow of Agrafa (Kichli, 2021).

Chatzimoisiadis INTRO1

Short stories, novellas, novels throughout a period of almost twenty years. What has changed and what has remained the same in this writing course? Would you say that there are recurrent points of reference in your books?

The first book contains, as it has been argued, all the following, that is to say, even in raw form, the thematic patterns, the technical features and the linguistic choices of the writer. Looking back at my collection of short stories Three Memories and Two Lives, published by Metaixmio in 2005, I can indeed say that the social look, the realistic writing, the oral style still characterize me. On the other hand, I would remain static, just repeating myself and thus be literary disarmed if I were content with the same and the same. My aim is to set the writing bar higher, to test my limits, to stretch the endurance of language, to enrich my prose both thematically and technically.

I must admit that from time to time I flirted with postmodern writing, at others I turned to a meta-realistic narrative technique, while I also tried dialectical linguistic forms and essays, and I enriched social issues with an existential and erotic content. Lately I find myself struggling with humor, which have tortured me for long, but I am still not willing to surrender.

Disillusionment, ideological collapse, vain hardships, death are among the main themes your latest book The snow of Agrafa touches upon. Tell us a few things about the book and the way it converses with history. Where does the collective meet the personal, where does the political become existential?

1948 was a crucial date for the outcome of the civil war with the tide turning in favour of the National Army and the internal processes of the Democratic Army with the gradual marginalization of Vafiadis and the old ELAS chiefs. This double "civil war" between the Democratic and the National Army and within the Democratic Army was quite dramatic and became even more explosive in the case of the Unarmed Brigade, which started on February 18 from Agrafa to transfer reserves to Macedonia. This dramatic course under conditions of frost, hunger and the relentless pounding of the National Army I narrate in my book, trying to stay as close as possible to the historical events.

Of course, let me note that I am a writer and not a historian, which means that I always put the aesthetic dimension as a first priority through the fictional coverage of historical gaps, especially when the focus is not on the main characters of the course but on invisible militias and when my intention is not to do politics but to highlight the human, existential and political drama, so that through the Civil War I can talk about our time and the human cause over time.

Τhe snow of Agrafa

More generally, how does literature converse with the world it inhabits? Could literature be used to shed light to unknown historical moments and make them accessible or even more comprehensible to a broader public?

I write in the basement of my house, in a rural community of the municipality of Pella, where I live, and I prefer the very night hours for reasons of devotion. But what seems here as a kind of privacy and detachment from the world around me only describes the act of creation and not my relationship with the surrounding reality. Like so many other writers I am a hiker, a reader and a listener, while I also happen to be a teacher, I have two daughters and I never stop being a citizen of a country. I draw my material from others, the world that surrounds me is my source of inspiration, based on my belief that the ego is understood only in its historical and social context and always in relation to the self.

The study of history lies within this framework, given that no literature is made in the absence of history even if the literary topic is far from historical. Literature can shed light on minor historical events, bring the history of the invisibles to light, open cracks in the body of the official historical narrative, turn the past into a living present or make the present a valuable source for the historians of the future. Thus, not only its aesthetic but also its historical responsibility is pivotal, and as a teacher I reckon it could prove valuable, setting historical teaching at school free from the deep yawns that it usually causes to students.

Critics have commented on the power of your literary language, the beauty of your literary speech. What role does language play in your writings?

I do not have the right to judge what is said about my work, so let me just say that in my aesthetic perception prose is less a subject and more a technique and language. The best subject is buried when the other two parameters lag behind, and what may seem like the most boring topic at first, can yield a great book when language and narrative take it to the next level. As far as language is concerned, let me note that I do not wish to treat it as the underlying thread of narration, neither do I want to reduce it to a simple tool of the plot. In my perception, it constitutes a major aesthetic parameter of the aesthetic whole, which requires care in terms of rhythm, melody and tonicity, even in the case of prose – hence my belief that a novelist has a lot to gain from his apprenticeship in poetry.

Literature is not just an activity among others. For me, it is a necessity of life, a kind of balance and communication, defense and resistance, beauty and pain”. Tell us more.

I was quite moved when one of my students confessed to me that during a deep psychological crisis, it was literature that kept her upright. In a different context, this is exactly what I experience myself when writing. I mean that for me writing is not a technical activity, a means of self-promotion or ahobby but rather a need for expression, communication, action and, above all, life. It’s through literature that I exist as an aesthetic, political and individual being, it’s there that lies my dream and my hope for the world, its there that lies my existential anguish, my stubbornness and endurance, it’s there that lies my offer and my imprint.

Chatzimoisiadis BOOKS 1 1

Do you agree with those who argue that Greek writers have a preference for short form and that short story collections have outweighed novels and longer narratives?

There is no shortage of great novelists - I will avoid mentioning names because I will be unfair to some. But for various reasons, mainly related to history, the absence of a strong bourgeoisie, the tradition of literature, the means of its dissemination (eg newspapers in the past or the internet today) it is in the short form that we have excelled. And I do not think that's necessarily bad, since brilliant texts have not stopped being written. Let me note that the short form allows prose to approach poetry, while it also enables hybrid forms of longer narrative to be written, such as the composite novel.

Writing and reading have always been a lifesaver for me and I could not help but wear it now faced with rough seas”. How has the current pandemic affected both reading habits and publishing trends? In turn, what role is literature called to play in times of crisis?

Very good books that were published during the pandemic never reached readers, the activity of small and medium-sized houses was reduced, while for various reasons the public didn’t take the opportunity to turn to books to a great extent. On the other hand, the use of electronic media has left a valuable legacy, since the absence of traditional ones has proved their value in our conscience. Restrictions imposed proved in practice that the literary obsession of the previous decades on confined spaces, on introspection, on the sad choice of loneliness, have their limits. Sincethebeginning of my writing career it is my firm belief that literature is a public aesthetic expression and this public character weighs both upon literature and its creator, even more in times of crisis. When the aesthetic pleasure is accompanied by the awareness of this burden, then I think we are talking about great works.

Thank you very much.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

Maria Gavala was born in 1947 in Koropi, Attica. She studied history and archaeology at the University of Athens. She directed a number of cinema movies, wrote reviews on the cinema, and translated theoretical-cinematic as well as literary texts. Her new, ninth, novel titled Ο μικρός Γκοντάρ [Little Godard] was published by Polis in 2022.

Maria Gavala INTRO2

Your latest writing venture Little Godard was recently published by Polis. Tell us a few things about the book.

It is a love story, between a young French filmmaker (Gaspar Frenel) and his Greek girlfriend (Lukia Vakari), the storyteller, who is studying cinema in Paris. At the same time, it is a reflection on the cinema itself, especially the documentary. A direct cinema, what is called cinema-vérité. Gaspar Frenel's lens focuses on the May '68 uprisings, the mass protests over the genocide of the Biafra people, the massacre of Algerian protesters in Paris in October '61, the violent Islamizations in Africa, transatlantic slave trade, the consequences of the coup of the colonels in Greece. On her part, the story teller is a person that moves between two countries, Greece and France, as well as between two worlds. In Paris she has her studies and her love, in Greece she is attracted by her origin, the interest for her family and the painful adventure of her uncle who is a prisoner of the military regime.

Α very interesting element in Little Godard is the relationship between the camera and the “truth”. How is this issue approached in the book? How is your personal active involvement in the cinema imprinted on the way Gaspar attempts to capture the historical moment through his cinematic lens?

My hero follows a straight line of action, a frontal attack; he wants to film the events while they are happening, to the extent possible. His associates accuse him of not covering his bases, of not manoeuvring, of cunning, of not deceiving the authorities as he should. His straightforwardness is not good for him. Both Gaspar and his girlfriend also attach great importance to the events that have already happened, to the testimonies of people who experienced them first hand, who saw with their own eyes, who witnessed the dramatic events in their full detail. They are the only indisputable witnesses (I know well from my own cinematic experience, what an advantage it is for the eyewitness to be willing to become an "accomplice" of the cinematographer). However, it is often the case that these witnesses either disappear (usually against their will) or are practically difficult to find due to their relocation, death, or reluctancy to speak for various personal reasons. There is also the case of censorship from the above, of state control (I was personally a victim of censorship of my work, during the dictatorship in Greece, where the search for the truth was translated by the censors as "οbscurantism") that prevents the capture of the truth, by destroying existing documents.

Just like in the novel, when the Algerian authorities destroy the negative of Gaspar's film, throwing it in caustic acid. Then, people who investigate, cinematically, the truth must find new ways to prove what really happened. The search continues, persistently and painfully, despite defeats and disappointments. That is why it is often argued that the cinema, like any other means of capturing reality, does not always manage to convey the whole truth, but only part of it. Probably by delving into the root cause or by looking for related sources, an assistance from the official History and the course of things themselves, one could hope for a satisfactory result.

MIKROS GODARD

In his review of the book, Manos Kontoleon commented that a major trait in your writing are the cinematic descriptions of the urban environment. Where does the cinematographer meet the writer in your work?

As a filmmaker, I always did an exhaustive location scouting, searching and researching places before filming. The right choice of the places where a film will be shot is what is required. As a writer, I make sure to know well, up close, the places (urban or non-urban environment) that will star in my story (the city, the river, the plain, the metropolis, the degraded suburbs, etc.). There are several meeting points in the working methods of the cinema and literature, and one of them is to know exactly where you place the story you intend to narrate. Even if your setting is fictional or imaginary, you have to build upon it so that it seems real and convincing. Archive photos are more than helpful in case the spaces have changed, in terms of construction, over time. A photo of a past era, published in an old newspaper, often saves the day.

Since your first novel in 1994 till today, almost thirty years later, what has changed and what has remained the same in your writing? Αre there recurrent points of reference in your books?

Strange as it may seem, I reckon I have always worked around the same idea from the beginning of my career both as a filmmaker and as a writer. Everything revolves around a person who is persistently looking for something that is not always clear. It may be a clue, a question, that will help the “self” to console itself, that will alleviate its mourning for the various losses.

How does literature relate to the world it inhabits? Where does the personal meet the collective in your work?

The world around us influences our work, even if its starting point, its architecture or its logic are completely imaginary. Experiences guide our steps, while gender constitutes a seal. I believe that the personal imperatively seeks the collective. The two may not be identical, yet the one approaches the other, and together they can offer a kind of relief. A person puts aside his selfishness and opens to the care and love for another, which means the end of isolation and loneliness.

What role is Art called to play in times of crisis? Could it be used to soothe fears or rather to prompt to action?

That’s a major issue and whatever answer needs to be further explained. I reckon that it all depends on the human character, people’s mentality and experiences. Some console themselves with Art, not necessarily in a passive way, while others use it a weapon to mobilize and act. It is a matter of talent, ability, courage, will, discipline and endurance above all.

Maria Gavala BOOKS 1

How would you comment on current literary production? Could literature be used to consider what could be radically different realities?

This would be ideal, to get acquainted with the differences, approaching them within the framework of current literary production, but also within literature as a whole and over time. Delving into identities and particularities. Aiming at convergence where needed and when possible. Inevitably, there are different realities on the planet. Things take a different course in the various parts of the world. Evil lies in authoritarianism, intolerance and bigotry. Such phenomena are above and beyond Art. If you visit a world art exhibition or read literature, or watch music, you will find that there are obvious differences among works from different parts of the world and alas, if these differences didn’t exist.

On the other hand, there are equally self-evident common points: the fear of death, the desire for a smooth continuation of life, the impossibility of freedom, its need, poverty, obstacles of all kinds, the restraints imposed by the strong on the weak, all sorts of radicalizations, dilemmas and problems that people are called to face and solve, not always successfully, and so on. It would simply be romantic or naïve or hypocritic to argue that the fate of people is the same everywhere. Deadlocks exist. And we don’t really know how gaps are bridged or how wounds are healed. Art doesn’t have ready answers for everything. Nor can it be considered a shelter or a crutch. Unfortunately, the future is far from clear. We have to try hard, not only vis-à-vis the art of ‘writing’, of ‘language’ and communication, but also vis-à-vis the art of survival. As for the art of living, for many parts of the world it remains an unsolved puzzle or an elusive dream.

*Interview by Athina Rossoglou

“Theatre is not an artistic re-enactment of external reality;
it is primarily a representation of internal reality”.

2022 has been declared as Literary Year of Iakovos Kambanellis by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, in honour of his contribution to the Hellenic nation both as an artist and as a man. Within this framework, a series of events is organized both in Greece and abroad aiming to bring to the fore the multidimensional work and contribution of the internationally renowned writer to Greek arts and Letters.

ekthesi mpenaki

Iakovos Kambanellis (1921-2011) was a writer and spiritual man who, though self-taught in his area of expertise, mastered all types of prose and verse, with iconic literary works and essays, unsurpassed theatrical texts, timeless screenplays, and, of course, iconic songs with music by Mikis Theodorakis.

With 40 theatrical works, he is considered one of the most prolific Greek playwrights of the 20th century. He contributed to the liberation of modern Greek theatre from the isolation in which it found itself, redirecting it from a theatre of manners and theatrical revues to social realism, poetic symbolism, satire, and minimalism. He is considered the father of modern Greek theatre and the leading voice to have articulated the reality experienced by the Greek people during the second half of the twentieth century.

As Kambanellis himself eloquently put it, “I believe that the theatre owes its continuous existence -a dynamic presence internationally, in fact, to its fortunately continuous anthropocentrism, which has always been, from the very beginning, its predominant element, its raison d’etre. Since the stage is the space par excellence where humans seek to understand what they are or could be”. He created fully drawn characters who are recognizable, authentic. Beyond his skillful writing, the immediacy of his language is one of the basic reasons that the Greeks identified with his work, loved it, and recognized themselves in his texts.

Dancing in the Wheatfields (1950) launched his long career in the modern Greek theatre. This production was followed by The Hidden SunDaddy WarUlysses, Come Home, and the one acts: The WayThe Gorilla and the Hydrangea as well as other plays which would be performed much later. Recognition as a playwright would come with The Seventh Day of Creation (1956), which was embraced by both critics and the public alike. The Courtyard of Miracles (1957), was hailed as a major artistic event and established Kambanellis as an innovator in modern Greek playwriting.

Τhe intensely unstable political climate of the politically agitated 1960s concerned Kambanellis, who found himself at a critical turning point and reconsidering his modes of expression. He decided to visit London, to study the latest artistic and theatrical trends. This experience led to the writing of The Neighborhood of Angels (1963). The play, which took the form of a folk opera, introduced a new type of theatrical language to the Greek stage.

Kambanellis Works 1

The imposition of the dictatorship on April 21, 1967, suspended artistic activity in the country, and, like all his fellow writers, Kambanellis, decided to remain silent. He broke his silence with two works: The Penal Colony (1972), an adaptation for the theatre of Kafka’s short story, and the theatrical revue, Our Grand Circus (1973), which, during the course of its 18-month run, became a statement of anti-dictatorship protest. The Broad Bean and the Chickpea (1974) and Our Enemy, the People (1975) established Kambanellis as a symbol of resistance to all forms of fascism.

After an eight-year absence from the theatre, following his appointment as director of ERT Radio, Kambanellis succeeded in making a strong comeback with the play, The Invisible Theatre Company (1989). His concerns about the interpersonal relationships of the declining petit-bourgeoisie of the time and the challenges posed by political recklessness and corruption were expressed in the work, The Road Passes Within (1991).

The clash between the individual and reality was the focus of The Eulogy (1990), while in the trilogy The Supper (Letter to OrestesThe SupperThebes Side Street) (1993), Kambanellis engaged in a conversation with Greek and foreign playwrights of the international theatre who had written works based on themes and forms of ancient Greek tragedy. With this trilogy he opened up a new cycle of works of an experimental nature, which he referred to as “studies and first attempts”. The later works, The Last ActA Meeting ElsewhereA ComedyThe Difficult Nights of Mr. Thomas, expanded and completed Kambanellis’ oeuvre. In the latter work, a detailed study of heroes in conversation with the writer, the characters express worry and anxiety regarding the decline of the physical body with reference to existential questions.

His plays have been staged by nearly all modern Greek directors  and have been performed by the National Theatre of Greece, National Theatre of Northern Greece, various Greek regional municipal theatres, National Theatre of Cyprus, and independent theatre companies. They have been translated and produced in the U.S., England, France, Germany, Italy. Spain, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Romania, Bulgaria, Norway, Lithuania, Turkey, Israel, Australia, and China.

His contribution to modern Greek cinema as a screenwriter was equally significant. In addition to penning the script for The Ogre of Athens, he wrote the screenplays for The Abduction of PersephoneThe Carriage, and Girls in the Sun. Kambanellis also dedicated a great deal of professional effort to the radio, writing and producing a very large number of broadcasts characterized by original thematic material as well as adaptations of literary and theatrical works. As a columnist, essayist, and writer of “epikerotita,” or current-events short stories, he contributed to the newspapers Eleftheria (1963-1965), Anendotos (1965-1966), and Ta Nea (1975).

Kambanellis’ experience in the Nazi concentration camp, which had preoccupied him many years earlier, was described in his memoir, Mauthausen. First published by Themelio Publications (1961) and subsequently by Kedros Publishers, the memoir achieved immediate publishing success. With its successive republications to the present day, it has gained renown as a major work of anti-war literature. The sensation created by the book prompted Kambanellis to write the lyrics to a four-song cycle of the same name, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis and performed to great acclaim in Greece and abroad to this day.

In addition to being a playwright, prose writer, and essayist, Kambanellis was a lyricist. His song lyrics were set to music by Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Xarhakos and contributed to the development of the modern Greek song. These songs achieved hit status and are still sung today.

A.R. [All images © Iakovos Kambanellis Official site]