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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.