NEW YORK – Jeannie Kouros, Founder of the Hellenic Book Club of New York, spoke to The National Herald about the organization and the efforts promoting Greek literature. Kouros, the 2019-2020 National Chair of the Daughters of Penelope for St. Basil’s Academy, also served as 2018-2019 Treasurer of the Daughters of Penelope NYC Evryklea chapter. She was the Founder and Program Director for the Hellenic Immersion Program for 20 years, and the Director for the Greek Language Program for Adults at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan for over 20 years.
Among the honors Kouros has received is a Proclamation from the Borough President of Queens for the work performed and contributions made to the community in New York City. She also taught in the public school system for 30 years in the New York City Department of Education, wrote grants, and helped various Greek societies build programs for the Greek Community.
“The Hellenic Book Club promotes discussions of Greek literature and works in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect. All questions are open-ended and encourage lively discussion,” Kouros told TNH. “It’s a small group so we can participate and learn from each other,” she said.
Among the books the club has read are: The Murderess and Tales from a Greek Island by Alexandros Papadiamantis, Why I Killed My Best Friend and I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis, Fresh Complaint and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Kissinger and Cyprus by Gene Rossides, and The Balkans since 1453 by L.S. Stavrianos.
When asked how the book club started, Kouros said, “I have always worked with the Greek Community and am very proud of my heritage. I believed that a book club that included only Greek writers was needed in our community. I don’t think we read enough and I wanted to read books myself. Many people told me they read Kazantzakis in high school, while others knew about Zorba the Greek but haven’t read the work or really understood what the writer intended. I also wanted to support new writers, and to be familiar with Greek literature. So I put this small group together with the intention of doing a lecture once a year for the Greek Community. We started our meetings at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity which has supported our Book Club from the beginning. I have to thank Fr. John Vlahos for all his support. Some of the other sessions were in Astoria.”
About how the books are chosen, she said, “our first book was The Murderess. Then, I wanted to get everyone involved in our selections. One of our members recommended Why I Killed My Best Friend, I researched the translation and we read that book. It was and is one our favorite books. When we were going to read poetry, someone suggested The Brazen Plagiarist by Kiki Dimoula, one of our favorite poets. We chose her because March is our month for female writers. Several members had joined the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) and we read the book Kissinger and Cyprus by Gene Rossides to learn about Cyprus. Daniel Padovano, our historical consultant and member, facilitated that book. Everyone loved that book. I also bought a video from AHI called Cyprus Still Divided. We learned so much. So that’s how we choose books.”
When asked about the challenging and rewarding aspects, Kouros told TNH, “the most challenging aspect of leading the book club and discussion was that every book included Greek History. My members didn’t know much about the Greek Civil War 1946-1949 or the Smyrna Catastrophe. I didn’t feel a simple explanation would benefit us. Daniel Padovano is our historical consultant, but we needed more. I asked Billy Chrissochos and Lou Katsos. They volunteered to speak at lectures and panel discussions and also attended our sessions for background and to help us understand it [the history] better. I knew they were very busy and we needed to educate ourselves by reading books.
“I called AHI’s President Nick Larigakis for suggestions and he had Van Coufoudakis recommend several books to help. I assigned readings from the book The Balkans since 1453 by Stavrianos. It took us several sessions with Bill and Daniel to go over facts and answer our questions. So it was quite difficult to get people to read books that were not literary fiction-based.
“The rewarding part is that we took such a giant leap and really appreciate the literature better because we have a stronger background. To me, it was such an honor for me to get assistance from all the wonderful people in our community. They are very busy, yet wanted to help us. When a community comes together, that’s huge.
“After that we had a lecture and book discussion. We are planning a visit to the museum and to discuss Greek history with the community. I am extremely thankful for the Archdiocesan Cathedral always supporting me, especially Fr. Vlahos and Nektarios S. Antoniou who is the Director of Culture at the Cathedral.”
Of the surprises along the way, Kouros said, “I was so surprised at Prof. Niko Alexiou’s offer to invite us to meet one of our favorite authors, Amanda Michalopoulou. He also offered to work together on a lecture and be there for us. What I am hoping is that more people will read Greek literature, learn more Greek history, and educate themselves and get involved in various parts of their culture and heritage,” Kouros told TNH.
“I also have many people who live far away but follow our schedule, read our books, and email me their critical analysis and opinions. I also have more people who call me for recommendations. That’s what makes me so happy,” she said.
Those interested in joining the book club’s waiting list should email Jeannie Kouros: Jsedona27@aol.com.