The Far and the Near

An American Writer's Commerce with Polish Intellectuals

Anthony Bukoski

I am grateful that Polish academics and at least two editors of Polish journals have been interested in my short stories. So, too, have Polish émigré, and Polish-American intellectuals promoted the stories as well as other Polish-American writers' works. Thomas Napierkowski has done this for me in his essays; Thomas Gladsky in Princes, Peasants, and Other Polish Selves: Ethnicity in American Literature; Malgorzata Cwiklinska as editor and publisher of Gwiazda Polarna and its English language supplement GP Light; John Radzilowski, who as president of the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota has arranged an author's reading under the aegis of that organization; and Stanislaus Blejwas, who has provided inspiration through his essays. Also, Zofia Smardz has helped this writer in a New York Times Book Review review; Katarzyna Kietlinska in a Periphery review; Tomasz Tabako by publishing an essay in 2B: A Journal of Ideas; and Angela Brintlinger by using two of my stories in a course at The Ohio State University.

My commerce with the intelligentsia in Poland, however, began when Professor Thomas Napierkowski of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs brought a short story to the attention of Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, editor of Akcent, a journal in Lublin. Translated by Ewa Pyczek and published as a companion piece to Napierkowski's "Polscy sasiedzi. Proza Anthony'ego Bukoskiego" was the story "Dzieci obcych ludzi," or "Children of Strangers." In time this would become the title of my second short story collection.

After publishing the story in Akcent (No.1/2, 1990), Professor Adamczyk-Garbowska, with much graciousness--which represents the tenor of my relations with Polish intellectuals--broached the idea of finding a Polish publisher for Children of Strangers, which in the United States appeared from Southern Methodist University Press in 1993. Although a first volume of stories, Twelve Below Zero (1986), had translation options taken on it by Feltrinelli in Italy, Contact in Holland, and Eichborn Verlag in West Germany, I never considered the prospect of having a book in my grandparents' language, which would mean so much to a grandson of immigrants. During the time she was seeking a publisher, I read in the trade publications about the economics of publishing in Poland in the early 1990s and doubted Monika Garbowska, despite her attempts, would succeed. Still, working in my behalf, she wrote on March 16, 1993 that, although she had not written me for a time,

this does not mean . . . I have abandoned the idea of finding a Polish publisher for your stories. The problem is that with Poland's switch to the market economy, most publishers are interested in very quick profits. The market is . . . unstable, dozens of new publishing houses appear and most of them go bankrupt after publishing one or two books.

Alarmed at the flood of "second-rate literature: Harlequin romances, crime and horror stories, interviews with well-known politicians, etc." and saying how difficult it was to find publishers willing to try "more ambitious literature," she hoped the situation would grow "more stable in the nearest future." Nothing finally came of her efforts to place the book, but my gratitude to her for representing me to Polish publishers.

Her generosity was evident again in 1995 when Monika Kwiecien began a correspondence with me this way:

I am writing you on [the] advice of my Professor, Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, who is the supervisor of my MA thesis. I am a graduate student of English language and literature at the English Institute at the Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin.

Last year we discussed some of your stories at our seminar and . . . I have decided to write my MA thesis on your work (my tentative topic is a comparative study of your and Danuta Mostwin's stories).

Between the Old and New Customs: The Emergence of a New Tradition, which also discussed Suzanne Strempek Shea, whose first novel had by then been published, was completed two years later in 1997. I was pleased not only with this Polish graduate student's inter est in Children of Strangers, but also pleased to be in the company of Danuta Mostwin and Suzanne Strempek Shea.

Then in a special issue of Akcent no. 2, 1997, entitled "Polscy Amerykanie," Adamczyk-Garbowska supported this Polish-American writer yet again. In addition to work by Polish writers, the issue contained academic and personal essays, poems, a novel fragment, and short stories by these writers in the United States: John Guzlowski, Helen Degen Cohen, Thomas Gladsky, Thomas Napierkowski, Anna Frajlich-Zajac, Professor Mostwin, and Ms. Shea, plus an interview with me and the story "A Chance of Snow" from Children of Strangers, published as "Szansa na snieg." Moreover, possibly as a result of Monika Garbowska's earlier publishing Napierkowski's "Polscy sasiedzi" essay, that piece appeared in English in Polish Anglo-Saxon Studies published at the University of Poznan.

Thus my entrée to publishing in Poland. Other good fortune occurred when a young American academic brought my stories to the attention of another editor in Poland. Soon after Sarmatian Review (January 1998) published John Merchant's "Recent Polish-American Fiction" discussing Stuart Dybek's, Suzanne Strempek Shea's, Denise Dee's, and my work. The essay's author, currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, was preparing to read his piece in Polish at the Jagiellonian University. While there he proposed that Arcana consider publishing one or two of Dybek's and my stories, which resulted in a fruitful exchange of letters with Andrzej Wasko at the journal, whose comments are especially relevant to the topic, how I, or we Polish-American writers, have been treated by Polish intellectuals. Having read the 1997 Akcent interview and Children of Strangers and having spoken with Arcana editor Andrzej Nowak, Professor Wasko wrote that translating a story or two into Polish for Arcana would be "desirable, thanks to their documentary importance for the Polish American experience in the past and the present days." He then went on:

in Poland, as you probably know, the interest in all things American is big, but there is still little knowledge about this branch of American literature you represent: "Recent Polish-American Fiction," as John Merchant calls it. Of course Akcent is doing good work. Arcana has already published a substantial article of John (you probably know it, because it was published also in Sarmatian Review). We would like to make our own contribution for establishment of contacts between Polish readers and Polish-American writers. This is something I firmly believe Polish contemporary literature needs.

Again, the kindness I met with from Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska when my stories traveled to Poland in 1990 I now found from Andrzej Wasko.

Largely because of John Merchant's essay and in small part because of my introduction through the mail to Professor Wasko in Poland, Maciej Urbanowski, a professor at the Jagiellonian who spent the 1998-99 academic year teaching at the University of Illinois-Chicago, together with Merchant, arranged for an interview in late February when I would be in southern Wisconsin reading from a new short story collection Polonaise (1999). Madison--Wisconsin's capitol city and home of the University of Wisconsin--lies two hours northwest of Chicago and so would mean a four-or-five hour round trip drive for them, no small investment of time. Yet Maciej Urbanowski's desire to meet before he left the country and John Merchant's determination to arrange the meeting resulted in a warm, enthusiastic, occasionally intense three-or-four hour exchange of ideas on, and impressions of, life and literature in Poland and the United States.

Not long after that good, gray, bracing Madison, Wisconsin, afternoon (our meeting brought the promise of early spring), Maciej Urbanowski wrote from Chicago:


As I mentioned we would like to publish [the] interview in Arcana, probably in July or September issue of our bimonthly. Soon I will send you an English version of this interview for your agreement. As I know from my friends in Poland, a translation of one of your stories is already ready. Another one is translated by Leszek Elektorowicz, a very good translator . . . . I hope [the] two translations will be published . . . with the interview. I hope also that it will be a beginning of your more often presence in Poland.

And so it has gone over a decade--other Americans' and my own work welcomed in Akcent and Polish Anglo-Saxon Studies, discussed in an M. A. thesis, and now, perhaps, to appear in Arcana. From my very limited view, I think bonds are forming because of catalysts in this country like Thomas Napierkowski, John Merchant, and Thomas Gladsky, who along with Adam Walaszek in Kraków has hosted several Polish and American Cultural Connections conferences, and because of Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Andrzej Wasko, and Maciej Urbanowski in Poland. As Polish-American literature continues developing (witness the publication of three novels by Polish Americans in the past year--Suzanne Strempek Shea's Lily of the Valley, Leslie Pietrzyk's Pears on a Willow Tree, and Geraldine Glodek's Nine Bells at the Breaker; of Stuart Dybek's novella "Orchids" in DOUBLETAKE; of John Guzlowski's very beautiful, moving poetry chapbook Language of Mules; and of my own Polonaise: Stories)--as our literature continues developing, one knows the bonds with Poland will strengthen even more.


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