Greek-born bilingual poet, novelist, and teacher Stratis Haviaras passed away on March 3 at the age of 85. In honor of this gifted writer, The National Herald takes a look back at his life and work.
Haviaras’ parents were refugees from Asia Minor who settled in Nea Kios, Argos, near Nafplio in the Peloponnese, when it was founded in 1927. As a child, Haviaras lived through the horrors of World War II. When he was 9 years old, the Nazis executed his father, Christos, for his participation in the resistance, and his mother, Georgia Hatzikyriakos, was sent to a concentration camp in Germany. Subsequently, the family home was demolished by the occupying forces.
After finishing elementary school, Haviaras started working in construction. A love of writing helped him overcome Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia and he began writing poems and plays at age 13.
His first poetry collections were published in Greece. After meeting the distinguished translator and philologist Kimon Friar, who invited him to work with him in the United States, Haviaras immigrated to the U.S., where he received his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. He held a number of positions at Harvard University, notably as founding editor of the Harvard Review, as well as teaching creative writing during the summer program. Ha also worked for thirty years as the curator of the Poetry and Farnsworth Rooms in the Harvard College Library.
In English, he published poetry collections and two novels, When the Tree Sings and The Heroic Age. He was a member of the American Authors League, PEN New.
England, the Modern Greek Studies Association, and the Greek Authors Society. From 2002 onwards, Haviarias coordinated the writing workshops of The National Book Centre in Athens, Greece.
When the Tree Sings is a young boy’s coming of age story set during World War II. While living in German-occupied Greece, he witnesses the ongoing destruction of his family, his village, and ultimately his way of life. The novel reads more like poetry than prose and offers insights into Greek history and the character and spirit of the people.
Haviaris’ novel The Heroic Age examines how children are affected by war, how they survive, if they do survive, and how their childhood is stolen from them. Set in Greece in the late 1940’s during the Civil War which followed the devastation wrought by the war and the Nazi occupation, the book is narrated by 12-year-old Panagis and recounts how a small band of children, orphaned scavengers, leave their village in an attempt to escape to Albania.
Haviaras insisted that this novel is not exactly an autobiography, but “an autobiography of my generation,” according to the book’s description.
Among his poetry collections, Crossing the River Twice was published by Cleveland State University in 1976, Millennial Afterlives, a retrospective by Wells College Press in 2000, and Duty Free Desiderata by Siera Press also in 2000.
Among Haviaras’ translations into English is the work of C.P. Cavafy in The Canon, published in 2004, and from English to Greek, he translated the renowned Irish poet Seamus Heaney work in To Alfadi (The Spirit Level) with Manolis Savvidis, Theodosis Nikolaou, and Soti Triantafillou.