Lithuanian-American Poet and Zen Practitioner AL ZOLYNAS

By David A. Bainbridge


I would like to introduce you to my favorite poet, Algirdas Zolynas. His most recent book was his just released, Near and Far, Garden Oak Press, December, 2019,141 pages. $11.69 at B&N.

Al’s poems are personal, rich in emotion, and often leavened with humor. Many capture the beauty and mystery of every day life. Some of my favorites include: Bread, In Gratitude; Near Sunskai, Lithuania; Watching a Day; the Western Felt Works, Leaving Kaunas, 1944, and Sideways Down Rapids.  

Also worth a look in earlier books: Love in the Classroom, The Zen of Housework, Nothing to do—Nowhere to go, The Way He’d Like it, Running down Summit Avenue in Saint Paul in a Heavy Snowfall, and Living with Others.

Al was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. They had fled the Soviet advance and survived bombing raids in Berlin. His parents became part of the wave of 11 million displaced people (DP) after the war. His father had been an attorney and one of his grandfathers signed the Lithuanian Declaration of Independence in 1918. As refugees they were refused entry to the US, where you had to have a sponsor, a place to live, and a guarantee that you would not displace American workers or, better yet, a related American citizen. 

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The Society for the Study of World Lithuanians

The participants of the first discussion. Photo: Vytautas Magnus University

On November 8, 2019, on the initiative of Vytautas Magnus University, the Society for the Study of World Lithuanians was established.

The president of the Society, Dr. Ilona Strumickienė, says that the name was chosen in memory of the Society for Aiding the Lithuanians Abroad which was active in Lithuania in 1932-1940. The Society provided aid to and maintained contacts with Lithuanians living abroad. It also contributed to strengthening of the Lithuanian identity among expatriates. In 1935, the Society organized the first World Lithuanian Congress in Kaunas.

By following the example of the Society for Aiding the Lithuanians Abroad, the newly established society hopes to build a network of and disseminate message about Lithuanians around the world, share discoveries and research results, and help strengthening civil society in Lithuania.

The first event organized by the Society was a discussion about how Lithuanian schools receive children who have returned from emigration which took place on December 13, 2019.

Two Ph.D. Theses on Lithuanian Diaspora

On October 25, a doctorate student of Vytautas Magnus University, Egidijus Balandis, successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis “Sport in the Social Fabric of Lithuanian-Americans in the Early 20th Century.”

Using the history of sport, Balandis analyzes the activities of Lithuanian-American organizations and civic participation of Lithuanians in American life. The main goal of his thesis is to explore the role of sport in a wider social fabric of Lithuanian-Americans of the early 20th century. Balandis looks at the attempts by Lithuanian-Americans to establish contacts and accumulate social capital through sport organizations, competitions, the non-sport activities of Lithuanian-American athletics clubs and the celebrities of that time. Using archival sources, periodicals and historiography, the author analyzes the by-laws of Lithuanian-American sport clubs, features of self-governance, various forms of activities, social functions, and their involvement in building social networks and relations with a broader part of the civil society of Lithuanian diaspora. In doing so, he tries to answer the question what role did sport play in social networks of ideologically oriented Lithuanian-American movements, and what attitudes they held towards sport and sport activities. Balandis also investigates the attempts of the Lithuanian-American media and more famous athletes and fans to construct the portraits of sport heroes and their intentions to use these portraits as both an opportunity to bring Lithuanians together and as a tool of social control applied on different diaspora layers.

On October 11, Monika Šipelytė, a doctorate student of Vilnius University, defended her Ph.D. thesis on the topic of political and diplomatic activities of Lithuanians in Switzerland in 1915-1919 and their impact on the statehood of Lithuania. The dissertation analyzes in depth the early emigration of Lithuanians to Switzerland and their political aspirations, actions, and achievements during the WWI. More specific activities, such as international and national conferences, development and dissemination of state projects, publishing, and internal and external correspondence are discussed in five chronologically arranged chapters.  

Lithuania’s Nature and the Particular Colour of Green Invite to Come Back

A Lithuanian-Australian writer Kristina Dryža is better known in the world of business and management as one of the most influential futurists, trend forecasters, and business consultants, who worked with companies such as Virgin Group, Microsoft, and British Sky Broadcasting. Kristina says that many still do not know that she is also the author of the novel Grace and the Wind released in 2014. I asked Kristina a few questions about writer’s craft, her first book, and future plans.

– How did you become a writer?

I always loved to write as a teenager, mainly in my journal, kept from my parents’ prying eyes. I didn’t really enjoy writing assignments at school or essays at university. I didn’t like writing to perform, to prove, to justify – for results. I had more fun crafting messages in Christmas and birthday cards for my friends, and sharing my overseas travel experiences in postcard form, when writing postcards was de rigueur in the pre-internet era.

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Interview with M. M. De Voe

Why is it important to bring diaspora authors together? Or perhaps not only diaspora authors but Lithuanian writers who live in Lithuania and Lithuanian writers who live in diaspora?

The Arts thrive in community. In isolation, an author can push themselves to create, yes, but to truly realize their full potential they must be challenged in an inspiring way. The more diverse the ideas that the artists and writers discuss when they come together, the more intriguing ideas bubble up – instead of just beer, you get champagne. Writers of the diaspora see Lithuania from a different perspective, from a bit of distance. Do you know the fable about the elephant and the blind men? One saw a wall, one saw a rope, one saw a tree, and one a spear? Only by adding this all together could they discover an elephant? It is both challenging and inspiring to hear about how other writers work, where they find peace, how they get through writing blocks, what themes and ideas matter. There is something about being in a room full of people who care as much about the perfect word as you do – and then discovering that person lives across the globe from you – and yet you have similar roots, you both know the blue of a cornflower, you both remember some adult showing you as a child how to get to the sharp, bitter scent of a rūta by crushing one leaf between your thumb and forefinger, you both know the savory taste of dill. It pulls the world closer, like a drawstring. And what you keep in that secret sack—that is up to you, but it is nice to know that everyone is carrying some memories that are all tied together.

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The Lithuanian Minister of Culture Visited the United States

The Minister of Culture visited the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago.

In the early September, the Lithuanian Minister of Culture, Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, visited New York and Chicago. In New York, the Minister met with the director of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Jonathan Brent. They discussed the cooperation between the Institute and Lithuania and other relevant issues in preparation for next year’s commemoration of Vilna Gaon (born Elijah ben Solomon Zalman) and Lithuanian Jewish history.

The Minister participated in the Litvak Days organized for the first time in New York and Chicago on the initiative of the Consulate of the Republic of Lithuania in NY. The event included a public lecture and three debates. In New York, Kvietkauskas, along with writer Tomas Venclova and Prof. Saulius Sužiedėlis participated in the discussion “Challenges of Multiculturalism in Contemporary Lithuania.”

While in New York, Kvietkauskas also visited one of the world’s largest American avant-garde film archives, Anthology Film Archives, founded in the early 1960s by Lithuanian-American Jonas Mekas. The Minister participated in the opening of the exhibition of the Lithuanian American artist Vytautas Ignas and met with representatives of the Lithuanian Alliance of America and the Lithuanian National Foundation.

In Chicago, Kvietkauskas paid a visit at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, and met with the leaders of the Lithuanian World Center in Lemont. At the UIC, where students can learn Lithuanian language as part of their academic curriculum, the Minister participated in a discussion “The Narratives of Pluralism: Lithuania’s Past and Present” and met with the students of the Lithuanian Culture course.