novels

now

On the Occasion of The Saturday Mother’s 500th Vigil for the Disappeared

The Saturday Mothers at  Galatasaray Square in Istanbul

The Saturday Mothers at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul

 

Today in Istanbul The Saturday Mothers held their 500th vigil for the disappeared. When I was in Istanbul in September at an international feminist workshop on mass trauma, memorialization and activism for change, the conference participants joined The Saturday Mothers/People at their 495th weekly vigil. Most of the photos held during the demonstration were of Kurdish men who had been disappeared by the Turkish government in the 80’s and 90’s. But among the sea of faces, I also saw several photos of Armenian intellectuals, such as Krikor Torosyan, who were arrested and murdered on April 24, 1915. The man who held that photograph was clearly not related to Torosyan, but here again the simple act of making visible a single, near-forgotten image transformed that space of protest into something hopeful and transcendent. The Occupy Wall Street slogan “all of our grievances are connected” was made manifest in this display of solidarity, and brought to mind the expansive humanity of the Soviet Russian writer Vasily Grossman.

 

Grossman, who lived from 1905-1964, was a Soviet Russian writer and journalist. He was also a Jew whose mother was murdered by the Nazis at Berdichev. At the close of World War II, he was one of the first journalists to see and write about the Nazi death camps in a searing piece entitled “The Hell of Treblinka.” His masterpiece, the World War II novel LIFE AND FATE, was never published during his lifetime because of the complex honesty of his portrayal of life under Stalin. The KGB confiscated the typescript in 1961, and the novel was not published in Russia until the late 1980’s.

 

In 1962, after the arrest of his novel, Grossman was offered a probably compensatory job translating a long Armenian war novel. He went to Armenia, where he wrote a memoir about his stay that is a humane and insightful meditation on Armenia and Armenians, and offers as well a subtle, understated analysis of power relations during Soviet times. In the final chapter there is a poignant description of how, at a time when anti-Semitism was rampant in the Soviet Union, during the toasts at an Armenian village wedding, local people spoke with compassion about what had happened to the Jews during the Nazi occupation. Grossman wrote,

 

Never in my life have I bowed to the ground; I have never prostrated myself before anyone. Now, however, I bow to the ground before the Armenian peasants who, during the merriment of a village wedding, spoke publicly about the agony of the Jewish nation under Hitler, about the death camps where Nazis murdered Jewish women and children.

 

We still live in a time when people’s tribal loyalties often dictate political alliances, but this gesture of solidarity described by Grossman is to me a model of how we need to reach outside our own narrow interests to take up the struggles of people beyond our immediate community. As an Armenian-American I can say it is a great thing to lobby for Armenian Genocide recognition and to advocate for the Armenian cause, but for a progressive this is insufficient. I wouldn’t hope to dictate to anyone what issues to take up or what coalitions to join. There are so many: to name only a few examples, we have the Climate Crisis, scarily militarized policing in our cities, a “war on drugs” that is in actuality a war on people of color, a lawless drone assassination program being overseen by our current president, and human rights abuses from Kurdistan to Palestine. As Grace Paley so eloquently put it, the only recognizable feature of hope is action. The time to act is always now.

 

All of Our Grievances Are Connected (Occupy Wall Street Protest in 2012)

All of Our Grievances Are Connected (Occupy Wall Street Protest in 2012)

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


I could never sell Girl Scout Cookies

blue21

 

I started writing a newsletter for friends, family and readers a few months before the March 2013 publication of my third novel, ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. The sample below is what I posted to the NK Book Group list last week on the publication date of the She Writes Press paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. It’s a low volume mailing list–one or two emails a month–and if you’re interested in joining, send a note to nkbookgroup[at]gmail.com. 

7 October 2014

Today is the official publication date of the paperback edition of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS. When I was a kid I had to drop out of the Girl Scouts because I was unable to sell the cookies, and pushing my own books is always embarrassing for me, but I’m going to force myself. Assuming that you already have a copy of the hardcover, please consider buying the paperback as a gift for a friend.

Just by way of explanation, the reason you should buy my book—or buy any book by a friend, or by any author whose work you admire—is not because I will profit financially. Most writers, myself included, are lucky, if you calculate the number of hours that go into the writing, to make minimum wage for the books they publish. The idea is, however, that by buying the book you are showing the publishers that you think they should invest in my NEXT novel.

Lately I’ve been hearing about the sorry state of publishing from agent and editor friends. When the subject turns to literary fiction, they grow absolutely grim faced. This is why, if I love a book, I buy multiple copies and give them to friends. For people who care about literary culture and serious publishing, I recommend that this holiday season you take a vow to give only books. (Myself, I’ll be giving books and beautiful handcrafted items from Sunbula Fair Trade.) On a brighter note, I’m thrilled and blessed that all three of my novels are available in paperback, ebook and audio editions.

I had a great trip to Los Angeles this past weekend for the Armenians and Progressive Politics Conference at Occidental College. I was on the keynote panel on Friday evening with my friends Khatchig Mouradian and David Barsamian. I’m also excited to be working with friends on Project 2015, an effort to organize a mass fly in to Istanbul of Diaspora Armenians for the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015. It sounds a little sad, but it’s actually going to be an amazing act of memorialization and resistance. (More on this at it develops!)

 

Nancy Kricorian


The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Just published in paperback by She Writes Press

Just reissued in paperback by She Writes Press

 

You hear all kinds of advice about writing, and there are dozens of handbooks offering guidance, most of it is abstract and pretty useless, or else it’s so specific that it doesn’t suit. Many years ago when I was a student, a poet and teacher gave me a piece of advice that didn’t mean much at the time, but which I understood much later to be the best writing tip ever offered to me.

“Respect your process,” is what she said, and she said it before “writing process” had become a registered trademark. Her words echo in my head at moments when I am annoyed with myself for how slowly I write, or for how much time I spend researching before I even start to write, or for the fact that I don’t have the book mapped out in my head before I begin, which means that I will have to do multiple drafts to get it where it needs to be.

What I have recognized lately, however, is that process, like everything else, doesn’t stay the same. I have written three novels, and each time, the process has been different. With the first book, as I made the transition from poetry to fiction, the only way I could possibly think about taking on something as enormous as a novel was by breaking the narrative down into 10-15 page episodic chapters. I also had two small children, and was running a small business as a literary scout for foreign publishers, so the only time I could devote to writing was Friday morning. I never had writer’s block, because if I didn’t churn out those pages once a week, the novel was never going to get done.

By the time Zabelle, a fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life as an Armenian Genocide survivor and immigrant bride, was published, I was already two years into researching my second novel, Dreams of Bread and Fire, a coming-of-age story about someone of my generation growing up in the Armenian-American community. My kids were in elementary school, I had quit the scouting business, and my writing process had changed: I wrote for two hours each day. I knew other writers who could sit at a keyboard for six hours or more a day, but for me two hours was the upper limit of productive writing time. Of course, I kept tinkering with it in my head while I was sitting on the playground or even when I was sleeping, but two hours in front of the computer was my process.

When I started researching my third novel about Armenians in Paris during the Nazi occupation, I was working twenty plus hours a week for CODEPINK Women for Peace. There were many days when being at a street demonstration against the Iraq war took precedence over laboring on the novel; still I tried to stick to the two-hour a weekday regimen. But I added a new rule: even if I didn’t have two hours, I would write for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes was enough to keep the characters and the language active in my mind so that the passive work would continue. It took me ten years to write the third book, partly because of CODEPINK and the miserable state of the world, and partly because as my kids got older they took up more space in my head than they did when they were small.

All The Light There Was, my World War II novel, was published in hardcover in 2013 and has just been reissued in paperback by She Writes Press. For two years now I’ve been researching a new novel, the fourth installment in what my editor has dubbed “The Armenian Diaspora Quartet.” It’s about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I haven’t started writing, and I feel anxious when I think about the fact that I don’t yet hear the sentences that will launch this story. But then I remember my mantra: “Respect your process.” I’m not entirely sure what the process will be. One of my daughters is in graduate school, and the other is a freshman in college. I’m still engaged in grassroots social justice organizing with CODEPINK, and I’ve started doing more speaking engagements, traveling, and teaching. I do know that the name of my main character is Vera, and that she grew up in the Armenian community of Bourj Hammoud before she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1980. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with her.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City


The Armenian Heritage Trip as a Form of Resistance

Among the ruins of Ani

Among the ruins of Ani

 

I participated in an Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey between June 18-30, 2014. On one of the last nights of our voyage, we were invited to share our thoughts. Below are the remarks, written on the tour bus, that I read to the group.

 

Between knowing that 1.5 million were killed and having heard the familial and personal stories of suffering, we have arrived at a new location by returning to the cities, towns and villages of our ancestors. The place names in narratives of 1915 now have vivid material properties.

I stood by the port in my grandmother’s hometown of Mersin. I then looked at a map and traced the trajectory between Mersin and the desert camp at Ras al Ain in Syria where she was among 8,000 Armenian orphans. She walked that distance in 1915 without shelter and with what little food she could scrounge or, much to her shame, beg.

We have seen the bridge in mountainous Zaytoun where hundreds were thrown to their deaths into the deep gorge below. The river ran red with their blood. That is a sentence I have heard many times before, but now I have seen this river. We have stood on the shores of Hazar Lake near Kharpert where 10,000 Armenians were forcibly drowned. I didn’t want to ask for a description of how this was effected, nor did I want to imagine it.

But we have also found other ways to experience these places. I imagined my grandfather as a young man crossing the Stone Bridge, dating to Roman times, over the Ceyhan River in Adana. Each of us has created new memories in the landscapes our relatives once walked. We have seen poppies and thistles by the roadsides. We have picked fruit from trees: sour cherries in Kayseri, red and the white mulberries in Zaytoun, and sweet apricots in Malatya. And some of us are going home with paprika–the famous biber of Marash.

What can we do with this new knowledge? Our very existence is testament to the resilience and tenacity of the Armenian people. And  our determination to make this voyage is a form of resistance. We refuse to allow our parents and grandparents to be forgotten. We refuse to allow erasure, fabrication and denial of our history. And as we go our different ways, I hope that each of us will find a means to bear witness to this past and to work towards a future where dignity, equality and justice are accorded to all the people of these lands.

 

Nancy Kricorian
Van, June 2014


Milestones, Celebrations and Ghosts

 

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

Peace Out: We just celebrated our 25th Anniversary

 

This is, for our family, a season of milestones and celebrations. On May 26th James and I marked our 25th wedding anniversary, and later in the week we hosted a celebratory Chinese banquet complete with Moutai (“the world’s #1 selling spirit”) and poems offered by our friends, ranging from recitations of Auden, Frost, Rukeyser, and Levertov to a limerick composed for the occasion. We also heard selections from Rosa Luxembourg’s prison letters and an eclectic list of world events from 1989 (for example, the TV show Seinfeld was launched and Beijing was put under martial law).

Our younger daughter, Djuna, will graduate from high school this week. Our elder daughter, Nona, will graduate from college two days later. And two days after that, I will be leaving for an Armenian Heritage Trip to Turkey. I have been referring to this as “Twenty Armenians on a Bus,” which a friend suggested would be a great title for a one-woman show. I thought it might make a good stand-up comedy routine. But I am also describing the voyage, primarily to non-Armenians who think of Turkey as the land of good food, fabulous bazaars and historic mosques, as a search for ghosts. The itinerary is planned around the participants, taking us to visit the cities and towns our grandparents fled during the Armenian Genocide.

As a final note, the official publication date for the paperback of ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS by She Writes Press has been set for October 7, 2014. It’s already posted and available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and McNally Jackson. When I get back from Turkey in early July, I’m going to start the push to get the word out about the paperback, and to line up events for the fall and next year. I’ve come a long way since grade school when I dropped out of Girl Scouts because selling the cookies was a most mortifying experience.

 

Nancy Kricorian

P.S. For summer reading, I’d like to recommend two titles I recently read and loved: Nescio’s AMSTERDAM STORIES and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF LYDIA DAVIS.

 


Roses in June

pinkroses

They want a sweet smell from a rose and humaneness from a human.
~ Armenian proverb

 

In the parks and gardens near my New York City apartment, spring unrolls its flowered skirt in a predictable sequence: first the crocuses, followed by the daffodils, tulips, lilacs, and peonies. When June arrives the scent of roses reminds me of my childhood in our backyard garden.

 

We had rose bushes and trellised roses that ranged in color from pale pink to crimson. When I was in grade school I would cut a half-dozen red roses from the bush, pry off the thorns, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel, and then wrap that in tin foil. I brought this bouquet to school as an end-of-the-year offering for the teacher. Soon it would be summer.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


Letter to Turkey on the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

sayfa 1 master_Layout 1

 

I was asked by AGOS Weekly in Istanbul to write a message to Turkey on the occasion of the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, as were a dozen other Diaspora Armenian writers, academics, filmmakers, and artists. The letter is below. Beneath my letter is a response I received on this year’s Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day (April 24, 2014) via my author contact email.

 

Letter to Turkey on the 99th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Let’s sit crooked and talk straight.
~Armenian proverb

Jesus says to forgive your enemies, but what they did to us I never can forgive.
~ Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian

 

A Palestinian friend of mine told this story. Years ago as a PLO negotiator, she suggested to her Israeli counterpart that an apology for what happened in 1948 would be a nice gesture. The Israeli asked, “You want us to say we are sorry?” She replied, “An apology would go a long way.” He said, “You want us to admit that Israel was born in sin, and this we cannot do.”

What nation state did not rise or profit from crime? Israel was founded upon the violent expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The United States of America was built upon land theft, genocide, and the forced labor of chattel slaves. The founding of the modern Turkish Republic entailed the extermination and expulsion of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, and the harsh repression of Kurds.

In order to justify these acts, the victims must first be made less than human in the popular imagination. After the fact, the story must be rewritten so that the despised, dispossessed, and murdered are said to have deserved their fates, and are made out, in fact, to be the perpetrators.

My grandmother, Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian, was from Mersin, Cilicia. She and her family were forced to leave their home in 1915. They were sent on a death march to the Syrian desert. Her parents and younger sisters died on the road. She and her brother were among 8,000 Armenian orphans in a camp at Ras al-Ain.

This was no accident. This was not the collateral damage of war. This was part of a concerted campaign to solve what was called “The Armenian Question” by destroying the Armenians. The goal was not only to rid Turkey of its Armenian inhabitants, but was also to appropriate their homes, lands and other properties.

To the people of Turkey, I am not asking for an apology. I would like an answer, however, to this question: What purpose does it serve to continue to deny dignity, equality and justice to the Armenians?

 

Nancy Kricorian
New York City
April 2014

(letter originally appeared in AGOS Weekly in Turkish, English and Armenian)

 

*

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Nancy:

I read your letter to the Turkish people and as a Turkish person I thank you for saying things as they are.

I wish I could call you an artist of my home country. I wish you could live in Anatolia and write beautiful, happy stories about Anatolian people. We miss all the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other communities who used to be our friends, neighbors, our musicians, film makers, writers. I wish I could read you, William Saroyan and Elia Kazan in Turkish. I wish I could listen to Charles Aznavour in Turkish. I wish I could listen to Gomidas long ago.We are poorer without you, without all these communities who were forced out or killed by our criminal politicians.

We were subjected to such levels of nationalistic propaganda, it took me a while to realize what we’ve done to our fellow country men. I am very embarassed to realize it so late.

You asked a question in your letter: “What purpose does it serve to continue to deny dignity, equality and justice to the Armenians?” My answer is: to justify new genocides, atrocities by nationalists and racists. If they stop denying what we did to Armenians they believe they can not justify and avoid responsibility for what we did to Anatolian Greeks, Assyrians and others and what we have been doing to Kurdish people.

I take this opportunity to tell you that I share your loss and pain, they are ours too.

My best regards,

Engin Selcuk

 

 


Happy Birthday Medz Mairig

nancyandmariam

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEDZ MAIRIG! My Armenian grandmother Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian (1904?-1985) did not know her birth date, which was written in the family Bible that was left behind in the house in Mersin during the 1915 “Deportations.” My grandmother and her family were driven from their home as part of what later came to be called the Armenian Genocide. Her parents did not survive the forced march into the Syrian desert, and as an adult she chose April 1st as her birthday.

 

Nancy Kricorian


How I Learned to Type

beigeselectric

 

In high school, I earned an A in Mr. Finn’s typing despite the fact that at the end of the year I was still using the hunt and peck method. My mother, who had worked as a secretary until my younger sister’s birth, typed all my papers starting in fourth grade through high school. When I was in college, many of my professors accepted handwritten assignments because my printing was regular, legible, and even elegant. When typing was required, I paid an administrative assistant in the Anthropology Department to do it for me.

As the first person in my family to go to college, aside from my mother’s two years at secretarial school, I had a fear that I would get stuck in the pink collar ghetto typing other people’s writing. I would never have said that I wanted to be a writer, because although writing poetry and stories was something I had always done since I could read, being a writer was too outlandish an ambition to admit even to myself. Growing up I knew women who were teachers, nurses, and secretaries, but no writers.

I followed my heart, however, and ended up enrolled in the Writing Division at Columbia University for a graduate degree in poetry, the least lucrative form of writing possible. When I arrived in New York, I registered at a temp agency and the first thing they required was a typing test. I scored, if I remember correctly, a miserable twenty words a minute because of all the mistakes I made. So they sent me to stuff envelopes with elderly volunteers at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. A few weeks later, through a connection in the Writing Division, I was offered a job working as a part-time assistant for writer Susan Sontag.

Susan Sontag called, and it was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be. She is basically looking for a typist, and I am not sure that my typing will be good enough. I know that if I really want this job, I am going to have to psych myself into the best typing I have ever done in my life. It is a draft of a manuscript that will have to be done once or twice more, and she needs to be there. In any case, I will get to meet her. I am going to do some positive thinking and visualizations about typing her manuscript.  ~ Journal entry, 15 October 1984

She liked me despite my typing transpositions. We worked on an article about Jean-Paul Sartre that was very interesting. THINK GOOD TYPING.                  ~ Journal entry, 18 October 1984

These were the only two entries I found in my journal about the typing problem and Susan Sontag. But I remember how stressful it was sitting at her desk with her standing behind me peering over my shoulder as I typed on her IBM Selectric. The more nervous I was the more mistakes I made, and although I believe she liked me and was trying to be her approximation of kind, her exasperated comments were withering.

I signed up for a typing class at a secretarial school in the basement of the New York Penta Hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden. Under the glare of fluorescent lighting in a room filled with rows of IBM Selectric typewriters humming and clattering away, I finally learned how to type. Soon I was able to produce a sentence without looking at my hands and with no mistakes: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Without that skill, I can’t imagine how I would ever have been able to write my first novel.

Nancy Kricorian


Written About Nancy

citation

My grandmother’s Armenian Bible is falling apart—its cardboard covers are worn, the spine is broken, the first 48 pages are missing, and until recently it was held together by a thick rubber band. When the rubber band cracked and crumbled, I tied a bright satin ribbon around it to hold it together.

The pages inside are covered in tiny Armenian letters that I can read, but barely. There are colored pen marks throughout where my grandmother underlined verses that were meaningful to her—Psalms is a riot of color—and she made some marginal notes in an Armenian script that I can’t read.

When I was cleaning my study recently, I untied the ribbon and flipped open the Bible. It had been more than a decade since I had looked at this book. Inside was a large red satin bookmark celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America. At the top of the bookmark there is a gold sketch outline of Mount Ararat and below is a poem, “I Am Armenian,” written by the Reverend Vartan Hartunian, who was the minister at the First Armenian Church in Belmont, Massachusetts from 1959 until 1998.

“I am Armenian/ I belong to an ancient race/ Whose roots are in the subsoil of history…”

I remembered having seen the bookmark in my grandmother’s hand, but when I flipped through the pages of the Bible, towards the back I found a yellowed newspaper clipping from the Watertown Press that I had never come across before. The headline read “Nancy Kricorian cited at Dartmouth,” and it was basically a pro-forma press advisory that Dartmouth College sent to a student’s hometown paper when the student did something noteworthy. My accomplishment was having received a citation—a special mention—in a creative writing class. “In citing Ms. Kricorian, her professor noted that her poetry ‘was remarkable for its clarity, its depth of feeling, and the evocative precision of her language.’”

My grandmother had glued the clipping to a small mailing envelope and printed across the top in Armenian, “Written about Nancy.”