One of the great failings of secular Greek-American society is its neglect of the arts and its own history. In recent years, two institutions have come into being that address that failing. I refer to Ergon magazine whose editorial team is headed by Yiorgos Anagnostou of Ohio State University and to the Hellenic American Project organized by Nicos Alexiou at Queens College (NY).
In the inaugural issue of Ergon, Anagnostou wrote, “This on-line magazine will feature the work (ergon) of poets, photographers, public intellectuals, musicians, critics, scholars, journalists, essayists, filmmakers, novelists, activists, translators, and women and men of letters. It fosters conversations among those deeply engaged in the introduction of new ideas, images, and meanings in the broader field we designate as Greek/American.”
In their first four years of publication, Anagnostou and his associates have made good on their promises. They have published more than a dozen poets and featured forums on Harry Mark Petrakis and other writers of fiction. Book and film reviews can range from an analysis of the Ludlow Massacre of 1913 to a chronicle of Greek confectionaries in the Midwest to the life of a journalist such as Elias Demetracopoulos. Dance, music, and visual arts are covered extensively, and there is an archive of historical photos.
Ergon, in short, takes take on the whole range of intellectual life rather than compartmentalizing or advocating a single school of thought. The contributions are well written and edited, making them readily 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 Greek-American journals Ergon has as many female authors as male. The editors genuinely seek new voices rather than just being dependent on established artists and intellectuals.
A full sense of the range of what has evolved into a cultural gem in the tiara of Greek American culture is possible by electronically accessing: Ergon: Greek American arts and Letters.
Another jewel in the Greek American cultural tiara is the Hellenic American Project (HAP). It seeks to be the prime archive for Greek-American history while continuously publishing new work. HAP’s primary mandate is “documenting the Hellenic American presence in the United States from the first wave of mass immigration 1900 to the present. HAP operates as a research facility, archive, 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 interviews that are organized into generational oral histories, analyzing population data, digitizing cultural artifices (including books), and organizing academic symposia 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 holding a wide range of material not welcome elsewhere. Many of these are self-published poetry, fiction, memoirs, and community histories that may be amateurish but are culturally authentic regarding a specific time or place. Also lacking literary style are the HAP’s vast collection of organizational documents such as minutes, official reports, membership lists, and other data invaluable to conscientious scholars.
HAP collects personal correspondence, era photos, advertisements as presented in their own time, and other primary resources. This includes musical cassettes, sheet music, and relevant films and videos.
Another strong feature of HAP is its series of videos of poets reading their work. This format allows us to hear the music of the poetry as intended by the writers, not just the words. The readings are accompanied by formal interviews during which the poet discusses his or her cultural goals, perspectives, and methods.
HAP advances the visual arts by posting virtual exhibits on its site. Some of the art is abstract and personal. Other times it is political and community oriented. An example of the latter was an exhibition of the photographs of Vincent Giordano exploring the presence in New York City of one of the oldest Jewish communities in existence. The exhibition was titled Romaniote Memories, a Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece, to Manhattan.
A HAP newsletter explores a wide range of topics. One issue featured a look at the films of John Cassavetes and another the music of John Otis. Biographies of Greeks and Phil-Hellenes have included essays on Constantine Brumidi, whose murals adorn the U.S. Capitol, and one on Daniel Webster, who fervently supported the Greek war of Independence.
The public is invited to browse the collection, which is attractively mounted and accessible, but scholars, journalists, students, and others seeking to use its resources do not have to venture to the Queens’ campus as many of HAP’s assets are available electronically. HAP can be accessed at: www.hapsoc.org