New gems of Greco-American culture | opinions, columnists
One of the great flaws of secular Greco-American society is its neglect of the arts and its own history. In recent years, two institutions have emerged to remedy this shortcoming. I refer to Ergon magazine whose editorial team is led by Yiorgos Anagnostou of Ohio State University and the Hellenic American Project organized by Nicos Alexiou at Queens College (NY).
In the first issue of Ergon, Anagnostou wrote: “This online magazine will feature the work (ergon) of poets, photographers, public intellectuals, musicians, critics, academics, journalists, essayists. , filmmakers, novelists, activists, translators and women and men of letters. It fosters conversations between those who are deeply engaged in introducing new ideas, images and meanings into the larger realm we refer to as Greek / American.
In their first four years of publication, Anagnostou and his associates have kept their promises. They have published over a dozen poets and featured forums on Harry Mark Petrakis and other fiction writers. Book and movie reviews can range from an analysis of the Ludlow Massacre of 1913 to a chronicle of Greek sweets in the Midwest to the life of a journalist like Elias Demetracopoulos. Dance, music, and the visual arts are widely covered, and there is an archive of historical photos.
Ergon, in short, embraces the entire spectrum of intellectual life rather than compartmentalizing or advocating a single school of thought. The contributions are well written and edited, making them easily accessible to anyone interested in a given topic. The magazine’s pages are open to Phil-Hellenes who have something to say about Hellenic culture, and unlike too many other Greco-American journals, Ergon has as many female and male authors. Publishers are genuinely looking for new voices rather than just being dependent on established artists and intellectuals.
A full sense of the range of what has become a cultural gem in the tiara of American Greek culture is possible by accessing electronically: Ergon: American Greek Arts and Letters.
The Hellenic American Project (HAP) is another gem of the Greco-American cultural tiara. It seeks to be the primary archive of Greco-American history while constantly publishing new work. HAP’s primary mandate is to “document the Hellenic American presence in the United States from the first wave of mass immigration from 1900 to the present day. HAP operates as a research center, archives, Greek American library, museum and event space. It uses “an innovative approach combining primary and secondary sources and making them available to the public”.
HAP initiatives include conducting generational oral history interviews, analyzing demographics, digitizing cultural artifacts (including books), and organizing academic seminars and cultural events.
A number of archives in the United States collect Greek-American documents, but HAP does so exclusively. It does not pass judgment on the material it collects, leaving it open to the possession of a wide range of materials not welcome elsewhere. Many of these are self-published poetry, fiction, memoir, and community stories that may be amateurish but are culturally authentic to a specific time or place. The HAP’s extensive collection of organizational documents such as minutes, official reports, membership lists, and other data invaluable to conscientious researchers also lacks literary style.
HAP collects personal correspondence, vintage photos, advertisements as presented at their own pace, and other primary resources. This includes music tapes, sheet music, and relevant films and videos.
Another strong feature of HAP is its video series of poets reading their work. This format allows us to hear the music of poetry as intended by the writers, not just the words. The readings are accompanied by formal interviews during which the poet discusses his cultural goals, perspectives and methods.
HAP advances the visual arts by posting virtual exhibitions on its site. Some of the art is abstract and personal. Other times it is political and communal. An example of the latter was an exhibition of photographs by Vincent Giordano exploring the presence in New York of one of the oldest extant Jewish communities. The exhibition was titled Romaniote Memories, a Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece, to Manhattan.
An HAP newsletter explores a wide range of topics. One issue featured a look at the films of John Cassavetes and another at the music of John Otis. Biographies of the Greeks and Phil-Hellenes included essays on Constantine Brumidi, whose murals adorn the United States Capitol, and one on Daniel Webster, who fervently supported the Greek War of Independence.
The public is welcome to peruse the collection, which is beautifully put together and accessible, but academics, journalists, students and others looking to use its resources do not have to venture to the Queens campus, as there are many assets of PAHs are available electronically. HAP is accessible at the address: www.hapsoc.org