In search of a distinctive English-language Polish-Canadian writing (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
This essay is partially based on my article,"Is there a distinctive English-language Polish-Canadian writing?: In search of a fragmentary tradition." Strumien (Stream) (Rocznik Tworczosci Polskiej w Zachodniej Kanadzie) (An Annual of Polish Creative Endeavour in Western Canada) no 8 (2012), pp. 18-24 strumien.ca That article was based on a draft of a presentation read at the 19th Annual Conference of the Polish Association for the Study of English (PASE) -- Crossing frontiers, staking out new territories (Kalisz, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan – Kalisz Campus), April 19-21, 2010.
While there may be some fragmentary tradition of Polish émigré writing in Canada, there are comparatively few Polish-Canadian writers born in Canada.
The three major figures of Polish émigré writing in Canada are, it could be argued, Melchior Wankowicz, Waclaw Iwaniuk, and Benedykt Heydenkorn. Heydenkorn is mentioned here because of his huge achievements in the area of sociological works about the Polish-Canadian community, especially those published by the Canadian-Polish Research Institute in Toronto.
Some other figures engaged in writing and literary pursuits that were born in Poland include: Florian Smieja, Bogdan Czaykowski, Andrzej Busza, Adam Tomaszewski, Barbara Sharratt, Eva Stachniak, Eva Karpinski, Stanislaw Stolarczyk, Marek Kusiba, Andrzej Pawlowski, and Jaroslaw Abramow-Newerly.
Of these persons, Eva Stachniak is today probably the most prominent, having achieved considerable success in Canada and the U.S., especially with her most recent bestselling novels about Catherine the Great of Russia.
Edward Mozejko was a prominent professor of literature at the University of Alberta (Edmonton).
Tamara Trojanowska is the leading professor in the Polish Language and Literature program at the University of Toronto. She is extremely energetic, and has organized at least two international conferences on Polish themes at the University of Toronto, most notably in February 2006. Piotr Wrobel holds the Chair of Polish History at the University of Toronto. Irena Tomaszewski was born in a Soviet labour camp during the Siberian deportation, and has brought to publication, for example, the prison letters of Krystyna Wituska – who was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Germans during World War II. The book is entitled, I Am First a Human Being (Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1997).
Zbigniew Izydorczyk teaches Medieval Literature at the University of Winnipeg. Together with Kazimierz Patalas of the Freshwater Institute in Manitoba, he brought to fruition the appearance of Providence Watching: Journeys from Wartorn Poland to the Canadian Prairies (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2003). This was an English translation of a work which professor Patalas put together with considerable effort, "Przez boje, przez znoje, przez trud: Kombatanckie losy" (Through battles, privations, and hardship: The fate of Polish soldiers) (Winnipeg: Polish Combatants' Association – Group 13, 1996).
The number of senior academics in Canada who could be identified as belonging to the Polish-Canadian community is relatively small, especially in the more socially- and culturally-impacting areas such as the social sciences and humanities. It could be argued that the holding of academic positions in medicine, sciences, engineering and other technical areas, and business, has relatively small social and cultural impacts. By comparison, the number of, for example, academics of Ukrainian descent in Canada (especially those focussing on humanities and social sciences) is far, far larger.
Let us now look at some of the memoirs published in the English language.
In 1989, there appeared Kon Piekarski's Escaping Hell: Memoirs of a Polish Underground Officer in Auschwitz and Buchenwald (from Dundurn Press).
In 1990, B.D.E. Prazmowski published Eagle's Brood: A Life in the Polish Resistance (a work of history-based fiction).
One of the latest memoirs to appear (of those published by a professional Canadian publisher) is Without Vodka, by Aleksander Topolski (McArthur & Company, 2000).
In 1995, there appeared the work of history-based fiction, Uncrowned Eagles, by Witold Ulan (edited by Adrienne Scott), which sought to bring a perspective on the Communist and Solidarity period in Poland to a North American audience.
In 2004, the University of Toronto Press published Lilka Trzcinska-Croydon's The Labyrinth of Dangerous Hours: A Memoir of the Second World War.
In 2006, Janusz Karpinski's It's a Long Way to Glasgow, which is largely a "Siberian memoir" appeared.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.