post archive

Personal Narrative


Spring Flowers

It is a great relief that winter is over—I find that the parade of spring flowers makes everything slightly more bearable. April is National Poetry Month, and I can recommend Two of Haya Abu Nasser’s beautiful and moving new poems, which posted on The Evergreen Review this week. In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, Mosab Abu Toha’s poem “The Moon” was stunning, and I was bowled over by Ibrahim Nasrallah’s “Palestinian.”

Thanks to everyone who has donated to Haya’s brother Ahmed’s fundraiser, his cousin was able to register him at the Cairo travel office. Now we wait for his name to appear on the Gaza crossing list. We are not far from reaching our goal so that his upcoming medical, educational, and living expenses will be covered, and it would be a great help if you could share the GoFundMe link with people who might donate. I will keep you updated on how things develop.

My spouse James was quoted in a Variety article about Jewish creatives signing a letter in support of filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, whose speech at the Oscars caused a stir. James also signed another letter by Jewish Columbia faculty members rejecting the weaponization of claims of anti-Semitism.

A hybrid documentary short film entitled “The Script”, which was co-directed by our progeny Noah Schamus, is up on The New Yorker. And their debut feature Summer Solstice was picked up for distribution by Cartilage Films, and will be opening in New York City in mid-June.

I recently learned from Red Hen Press that the official publication date for my new novel, The Burning Heart of the World, will be April 1, 2025. We already have a beautiful cover featuring a digital collage by Mariam Tamrazyan, but the publicist recommended that I not share it publicly until six months before the launch. This novel about Armenians in Beirut has been a long time coming, and I’m very much looking forward to sharing it with you.

Nancy Kricorian


Love is a Practice of Freedom

Haya and her brother Ahmad on the beach in Gaza before the war

I am writing this with a heavy heart. Today’s images from the ruins of Al Shifa Hospital have me reeling. The genocidal maniacs have sunk to a new low, and Joe Biden is a full partner in this unconscionable carnage, which has killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians and is designed to make Gaza uninhabitable. With the bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus today it seems they are pushing for a wider regional war.

I have been mentoring Haya Abu Nasser, a young Palestinian writer from Gaza through the We Are Not Numbers program, which was recently featured on The Rumpus. I have placed six of Haya’s beautiful and devastating poems in prominent literary magazines, including “At The Cliff of Death,” which was published by Mizna.

After being internally displaced four times, and spending months in a tent in Rafah, a few weeks ago Haya was able to leave Gaza and make her way to Malaysia where she is enrolled in a masters program in International Affairs. Haya’s family is still in Gaza, and she wants to help her brother Ahmed get out for medical treatment and to finish his BA degree. He has asthma, is malnourished, and was recently diagnosed with hepatitis. So Haya and I have started a GoFundMe campaign. Ahmed has only two courses left to become a Renewable Energy Engineer. The funds raised will secure his safe passage out of Gaza, cover his university tuition, as well as his medical and living expenses. Please donate if you can and share if you will.

My friend Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor at Hebrew University who lives in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and was suspended from teaching because of her speaking out against Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza. Thankfully she was reinstated last week. During a recent interview on the excellent podcast Makdisi Street, she talked about ashla, the Arabic word for the scattered body parts that families have been collecting after bombings in Gaza. She expanded the meaning of ashla to include the scattered remnants of the Palestinian people, as well as the divided and enclosed Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza. She said, “We theorize about the flesh, but Palestine…I’m putting at the center the scattered body parts, the body bags, and the dead bodies, the burned bodies.” I hope you will listen to the whole interview, because as painful as some of the details are, her analysis is brilliant, and she ends with hope. She speaks about the love that people feel for each other and for the land in Palestine, and she dreams of a future that is free of settler colonial necropolitics. As she puts it, “Love is a practice of freedom.”

Nancy Kricorian


Antidote to Despair

Manhattan Bridge, 26 November 2023

Several weeks ago I saw a post on X (formerly Twitter) that asked, “Anyone else struggling to maintain ‘Work-Genocide’ balance lately?” Watching mass murder in real time on social media is a circle of hell I never thought to inhabit. I cycle between grief, rage, and shame as I witness U.S.-made “bunker buster” bombs raining down on trapped civilians in Gaza while our government underwrites, arms, and provides diplomatic cover for Israel’s genocidal campaign.

Right now, we are engaged in two struggles—one is to get what UNICEF has called a war against children in Gaza to stop, and the other is to push back against McCarthyite repression on campuses and in workplaces. Close to home, Columbia University’s administration has been using repressive tactics against student groups, and our friends at Palestine Legal have been working from dawn until dusk to defend people around the country who are being doxxed, harassed, threatened, and fired for speaking out against what is happening in Gaza.

And while eyes are focused on Gaza, settler and Israeli army violence in the West Bank has reached unseen levels. At the same time, the Armenians of Jerusalem are facing an existential threat as a despicable land grab is underway in the Armenian Quarter.

Tired of my own hand-wringing and too many hours spent on Instagram looking at horrific images, I joined a large pro-ceasefire demonstration last Sunday that shut down the Manhattan Bridge for over three hours. As horrible as the situation is in Gaza, there was joy and power in joining with 1,500 like-minded people to chant, “Down, down with occupation! Up, up with liberation!” The only antidote to despair is action—and the most powerful and effective actions are taken with others.

P.S. For further reading, I recommend the articles below.

Anne Boyer’s beautifully written letter announcing her resignation as the poetry editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine because of the paper’s poor and biased coverage.

My friend Adania Shibli interviewed by The Guardian’s John Freeman on language, writing, silence, and Palestine

My friend and former mentee Hossam on Life and Death Under the Bombs in Gaza. You can follow him on Instagram.

My friend Patty Kaishian’s beautiful piece, “Guardians of the Land: Understanding the Genocide Against Armenians in Artsakh.”


Gone

I woke up this morning with these words reverberating in my head.

When we humans are gone, having pulverized each other and made the planet uninhabitable for our kind, this lichen will still be growing on its rock in the forest, thinking, Finally we can live in peace.

When I shared these words with my friend the mycologist, she said, “Knowing the fungi will inherit the earth brings me peace.”

Nancy Kricorian


Day to Day

“Too much of a past, too little ahead, but wait a minute, we always lived day to day, so where’s the difference?”

~ Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence (2020)

*

Last week my friend Barbara Harris passed away after a long illness, and Gerry, her beloved husband of 67 years, asked me to speak about her activism at the funeral this Monday. Barbara and I met in 2003 through CODEPINK NYC and worked closely together for over 13 years. In 2008, The New York Times ran a profile of Barbara and the campaign she organized working to keep predatory military recruiters from targeting vulnerable high school students. Mel, a former CODEPINK NYC staff member commented, “Barbara was a gift to the anti-war movement and the activist community. Whenever she showed up to a demo, I felt like things were going to be okay. She had so much knowledge and such a calming presence. Cristina and I joked about making Barbara dolls to carry around for reassurance when things got rough.”

And speaking of things getting rough, yesterday Azerbaijan launched a full scale military assault against the people of Artsakh, announcing the planned “evacuation” of the Armenian population. Of course, anyone who was following the news could have seen this coming, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. The use of the word “evacuation” clearly indicates a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Governments, NGO’s, and human rights groups have issued condemnations, but the shelling and terror continued undeterred. The Azerbaijani Army is known for its torture and beheading of captured Armenian soliders, and even civilians are fair game for their violence and cruelty. The fourth century Amaras Monastery, established by St. Gregory the Illuminator, is now under Azerbaijani control. And if the Azerbaijani government stays true to form, they will say that it’s an “Albanian Christian” monument and sandblast the Armenian inscriptions. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to watch all this happening in real time on social media while the world does nothing. And Turkey’s ever helpful Erdogan announced at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday that Armenia must open the so-called “Zanzegur Corridor” allowing Azerbaijani passage through the territory of the sovereign Armenian Republic. This morning a “ceasefire” was announced and the Azerbaijani army took full control of the area. I’m dreading what comes next. You can follow what is going on via live updates from EVN Report and you can contact your elected officials using this tool from the Armenian Assembly of America.

Yesterday I also received word from my literary agent that she was closing on the last few open points in the contract for my new novel with Red Hen Press, a small, independent, non-profit publisher based in Pasadena. Red Hen will publish The Burning Heart of the World, a novel about an Armenian family in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, in 2025. This submission process was long and grueling, and I cannot tell you what a relief it is that the book has found a home, and with a press whose values align with so many of mine.

I’m leaving on Friday for a two-week trip called “The Mushrooms and Culture of Greece.” My friend Betsy and I will be traveling to Zagori in northwestern Greece with a group tour led by several radical mycologists. If you follow me on social media, expect to see lots of photos of mushrooms, food-laden tables, mountain villages, and the rocky shore.

Day to day, I try to open my heart to the sweetness of this tough world.

P.S. For your reading pleasure, here’s an interview with our filmmaker progeny. And here’s an article about The Wisdom of Fungi.

Nancy Kricorian


Naming the World

Small red eft on leaf litter and moss on the forest floor.

As a child I went to a Pioneer Girls Christian camp starting in the summer after fifth grade through the summer after my senior year in high school. The now defunct New England Camp Cherith was on Lake Bunganut in Alfred, Maine. It was on the camp’s 130 wooded acres that I had my first experiences with hiking and camping and was taught how to build a campfire and to cook a tin foil dinner. When I was a counselor in training, we were required to learn the names of five trees, five wildflowers, five birds, five rocks, and five constellations. In the Nature Cabin, I pored over field guides, and at night the other C.I.T.s and I would lie on our backs on the mown hill staring up at the stars. I had always loved our large yard and garden in Watertown, turning up the marble steppingstones to look at the insects underneath or resting my cheek on the soft moss between the peach tree and the hedge of lilacs. Now I came to love the broader canvas of the camp’s forest, lakeshore, and rolling hills.

When I was a student in Columbia’s Graduate Writing Division in the 1980’s, Arizona poet Richard Shelton, who passed at the end of last year, came to deliver a Master Class. He had a warm and relaxed charm, and he read us a few of his poems that were full of details about the Sonoran Desert. He told us, “If you don’t know the name of a thing, you can’t fully see it.” He described the way that people unfamiliar with the desert would experience it as an empty space, but if you studied it the way he had, learning the names of the plants, the animals, the insects, and even the stones, you would understand its fullness. These words have reverberated in my head for decades now, and when I walk through the forest behind our Columbia County house, I recite the names of what I recognize—the wildflowers, the trees, the birds, and mushrooms. But I feel overwhelmed wondering about the names I don’t yet know for the ferns, the mosses, lichens, and grasses on the forest floor. As the poet Maxine Kumin put it, “Our ground time here will be brief,” and I wish I had begun this concerted study much earlier.

For the conclusion of my Beirut novel (no news yet—I promise as soon as there is anything to tell, I’ll send out a flare), I wrote a folk tale called “The Girl Who Talked with Birds.” I started birdwatching ten years ago as part of the research for this novel, which has avian imagery woven throughout the narrative, but also as an extension of my engagement with the natural world. The protagonist of the folk tale, a girl named Sosi, thinks to herself:

Sosi understood that each living thing had a name, and she wanted to learn what to call each flower, grass, and insect. Her mother knew many of the names, and her grandmother knew even more, but neither of them knew them all. In response to Sosi’s incessant questions, her grandmother said, ‘The Creator made them, and only the Creator knows the name of each and every one.’

Writing a novel is a way of creating a world, and, because of my interest in history and need for historical accuracy, of recreating a world, filling it with people, places, events, sounds, textures, and smells that are at once invented and rooted in lived reality. I want the reader to open the book and to be transported into the world that the characters inhabit. And the more I know about this beautiful, resilient, and fragile planet on which we live and the people and other creatures who roam its precincts, the truer this fictional world can be.

P.S. Our adult child Noah Schamus has a film premiering at the Provincetown Film Festival this weekend. Watch the trailer here. This nuanced, funny, and moving film is mom approved (I’m the mom, of course, but I’m relatively objective, having told Noah in elementary school that they gave the second-best performance in the school production of Romeo and Juliet). I’ll send out news about where you can see Summer Solstice when it’s made more widely available.

Nancy Kricorian


The Good Stuff

My mood has been a little down lately—family health struggles, no news yet on the book front, rising fascism in this country and around the world, and other calamities I don’t have the heart to enumerate—so I haven’t much felt like composing one of these notes. But there have been some bright spots—things to watch and read and see—that I’ve been collecting to share. And here they are.

Watch JURY DUTY on Amazon FreeVee. This is the best TV I’ve watched in a very long time, and I have recommended it to a dozen friends all of whom have loved it. It’s funny and deeply kind.

Watch this trailer and then go to the movie theater to see ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME MARGARET. Abby Ryder Fortson’s performance is phenomenal. Then watch the documentary JUDY BLUME FOREVER.

Read this beautiful previously unpublished story by the late Laurie Colwin in The New Yorker.

Read my spouse James’s Op-Ed about the Writers Guild Strike in The Guardian.

Check out this piece about Armenia’s vibrant new fine wine and dining scene in Food & Wine.

Read about Harout Bastajian, a Lebanese-Armenian artist renowned for painting domes in mosques around the world. He volunteered to paint a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, and years later when he fell on hard times in Beirut, the local community helped him relocate to Michigan.

Read about Arno Yeretzian and Abril Books of Glendale, California, both national treasures, and then order some books from Abril to support their work.

Also, we made it through the winter. It’s Spring! Get outside and look at the flowers, the migrating and nesting birds, and the mushrooms that are starting to pop up.

Nancy Kricorian


Small Miracles

a cluster of crocuses growing in leaf litter

It’s not quite spring, but the crocuses have bloomed, and the daffodils are starting to show their sunny faces. It always feels like a small miracle to me when winter recedes and the trees start to bud, and this year’s flowers that bloom in a predictable series have lifted my mood.

We are packing up our apartment so the walls can be painted and the floors refinished—this hasn’t been done since we moved in eighteen years ago. I’m in a chaos of boxes with walls sadly denuded of all paintings, photos, and posters, and we will be decamping to Los Angeles for two weeks while the work is done. James is on the Writers Guild negotiating committee—their contract expires on May 1—and while we are in L.A., he will be in a hotel conference room from 9 to 5 every day trying to hammer out a deal. I plan to be working on an essay entitled “His Driving Life” about my father’s relationship to motor vehicles, starting with the Lincoln Market delivery truck that he drove at the age of nine when he could barely see over the steering wheel.

Our daughter Djuna, who as a second-year law student at NYU is working with the Racial Justice Clinic, learned two weeks ago that her first client has been granted parole. Upon hearing this wonderful news, I sent Djuna this quotation from prison abolitionist, organizer, writer, and librarian Mariame Kaba:

“I’ve said this to younger organizers and will repeat it here. To be involved in helping to free someone from the clutches of death making institutions is a profound and life altering experience. It’s a miracle. Make sure you take that in and then continue to fight for others. People say ‘well look at all of the effort it took to get one person out.’ And my response is ‘YES and it’s worth all of the effort. Keep going.’”

Djuna and her friend Will visited David twice a month at Fishkill Prison to help him prepare for his parole hearing, and they are now raising funds for him in advance of his imminent release.

Another bright note is that the anthology WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN has just gone back for another print run because the sales of the first edition have been so strong. This week the anthology was included in a New York Times roundup of newly published books. Columbia’s Armenian Center is hosting a panel discussion on April 3—the anthology’s editor Aram Mrjoian will be in conversation with contributors Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, Hrag Vartanian, and yours truly. If you’re in the New York area, it would be lovely to see you there.

Nancy Kricorian


We Are All Armenian

My essay “Language Lessons” is included in a forthcoming anthology edited by Aram Mrjoian entitled WE ARE ALL ARMENIAN. Among the eighteen contributors are my friends Nancy Agabian, Liana Aghajanian, Chris Bohjalian, Scout Tufankjian, and Hrag Vartanian. My friends Dahlia Elsayed and Andrew Demirjian designed the beautiful cover. The jacket text describes the project thus:

We Are All Armenianbrings together established and emerging Armenian authors to reflect on the complications of Armenian ethnic identity today. These personal essays elevate diasporic voices that have been historically silenced inside and outside of their communities, including queer, multiracial, and multiethnic writers. The eighteen contributors to this contemporary anthology explore issues of displacement, assimilation, inheritance, and broader definitions of home.

The publication date is March 14, 2023 and pre-orders are being accepted now. Pre-orders are crucial because if they are strong the publisher is motivated to do more publicity and marketing for the title. You can go to the University of Texas Press site and use  the discount code UTXM25 to receive 25% off and free shipping. If you have a good connection with your university or public library, please request that they purchase a copy.

If you are in the New York City area save the evening of Monday April 3rd for a launch event at Columbia University. More details to follow.

Nancy Kricorian


Mushrooming

Turkey Tail (Trametes Versicolor)

Winter is upon us, and there are far fewer mushrooms to in the woods now than there were in the late spring, summer, and autumn, but there are still fungi to find. The other day I came across a fallen oak branch that was covered in Amber Jelly Roll (Exidia Crenata), which is apparently edible, although the taste is described as bland. Today when I walked on the trails in the woods I saw lots of polypores and a few other types of mushrooms. I love the common names—Turkey Tail, False Turkey Tail, Violet-Toothed Polypore, Birch Polypore, Tinder Polypore, Artist’s Conk, Crowded Parchment, and Witch’s Butter, to name a few that I noted on my foray. I’ve started trying to learn the Latin names as well, but that is a long-term project. 

I’ve recently joined a new social media platform called Project Mushroom that was started by people who are committed to fighting for social justice and to addressing climate catastrophe. I am  hoping for a viable alternative to Twitter, which is now owned by a petty and volatile right-wing billionaire. Project Mushroom is an “instance” on the Mastodon federated network, and instead of tweets the posts are called “toots,” although I hear this term is fading out because it’s a little silly and we’re just going to call them posts. What we refer to as retweets on Twitter are called boosts on Mastodon. It’s still a little lonely over there—no other Armenians, few of my organizer friends, and almost nobody I knew before I arrived. If you want an invitation to join, let me know and I’ll send you one.

It’s interesting how ubiquitous mushrooms are these days: mushrooms are to be studied, to be foraged and eaten, to be made into medicinals, to be used as metaphors for human relationships and grassroots organizing. Last year I read and loved Merlin Sheldrake’s highly entertaining Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures. After reading the book I was even more enamored of mushrooms and all their amazing properties and possibilities. I perceived the forest differently, aware of the underground mycelial networks connecting the trees, as well as the dependencies between the trees and the fungi. I thought about the way that fungi decayed organic matter to make room for new life.

I love a passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark using mushrooms to think about how political change occurs. She says, “After a rain, mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many do so from a vast underground fungus that remains invisible and unknown. What we call mushrooms, mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork—or underground work—often laid the foundation.”

Instead of perceiving ourselves as separate individuals, what if we understood ourselves to be created in and through our human networks? I notice in my psychotherapy sessions I often start with a report about how everyone in my life is doing—my kids, my spouse, my mother, my sister, her kids, my friends—because my well-being is entwined with theirs. I’m also reminded of one of the most inspiring slogans from Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign: “Are you willing to fight for that person you don’t know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?” What if that kind of solidarity is not about selflessness, but is grounded in an understanding that we are all connected and if others are suffering we ourselves can’t be truly whole?

Wishing you and yours a festive and sweet holiday season.

Nancy Kricorian