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In search of a distinctive English-language Polish-Canadian writing (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted March 14, 2016

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.

Leaving aside Polish-language writing – which may be termed as Polish literature in Canada -- Polish-Canadian writing may be subdivided into works by émigré authors in the English language, of which there is some presence; and works by persons of Polish descent born in Canada (or who arrived in Canada before adolescence or in early adolescence), of which there is less of a presence.
Louis Dudek (who passed away in 2001) is probably the most prominent writer of Polish descent born in Canada. Polish or Polish-Canadian issues do not appear to have played a major role in his poetry and literary criticism.

Sophia Kaszuba is also Canadian-born. Her poetry in Like a Beast of Colours, Like a Woman does not explore Polish themes. As far as other persons engaged in writing who were either born in Canada, or arrived in this country before later adolescence, there is only a very small number.

The most prominent of these persons are probably Apolonja Maria Kojder (author of "A Mother's Legacy" which is the main part of Marynia, Don't Cry: Memoirs of Two Polish-Canadian Families), and Helen Bajorek-Macdonald, who has written an M.A. thesis at Trent University on the deportations of Poles to Siberia, and their eventual arrival in Canada. (The author of the second memoir in Marynia, Don't Cry is Barbara Glogowska.)

Another fairly prominent person is K.G.E. (Chuck) Konkel, who has professionally published two novels, The East Wind Rain, and Evil Never Sleeps, set in exotic locations, Hong Kong and Mexico, respectively. In an interview published in the print and web version of Miedzy Nami (a Hamilton, Ontario-based Polish-Canadian magazine) he reported that his third novel, which he is working on, will definitely have Polish themes, being set in Europe shortly after the end of the Second World War. Chuck Konkel is one of a very few non-émigré Polish-Canadian authors who have had some success on the so-called "CanLit" scene.

Christopher Gladun (who untimely passed away in 2003), maintained an extensive website dedicated to the memory of his mother, Janina Sulkowska-Gladun, who lived through the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland and deportation to Siberia (including political imprisonment and torture by the NKVD) and eventually came to Canada.

Les Wawrow was the editor of the original Echo magazine, an interesting Polish-Canadian publication of the 1970s.

Jan K. Fedorowicz had good scholarly credentials as a historian, but chose to dedicate himself to business pursuits.

Richard Sokoloski, a third-generation Polish-Canadian, is a professor of literature at the University of Ottawa.

Roman Smolak did an M.A. thesis at York University about Polish-Canadian identity, but is currently not engaged in scholarly or writing pursuits.

Barbara Janusz, who had lived for many years in Calgary, Alberta won an award for her short story, "The One-Legged Sandpiper." She was also among the first women practicing criminal law in Canada.

Her colleague Anna Mioduchowska has professionally published a number of short stories, for example in the Edmonton-based speculative fiction magazine, On Spec.

John Kula is the editor of Simulacrum, a hobby journal dedicated mostly to historical board wargames.

Maria Kubacki is the former editor of The New Brunswick Reader, a weekly magazine of the Saint John Telegraph-Journal.

Luiza Chwialkowska (who came to Canada from Poland when she was five years old) is a reporter with The National Post. She appears very frequently in that newspaper, but not as an opinion columnist. Another reporter with The National Post is Jan Cienski.

Diana Kuprel, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature, and has done literary translation from Polish to English, was for about half a year the editor of Books in Canada. Unfortunately, this was at a time when the publication was financially troubled, and shortly thereafter, it suspended publication. It managed to resume publication in 2001, and its September/October 2001 issue announced the granting of the 2000 Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award to Eva Stachniak (an émigré author) for her book, Necessary Lies. Eva Stachniak is an émigré Polish-Canadian author who has achieved considerable success in CanLit. Diana Kuprel was also for a few years the editor of ideas, etc. This was a publication of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto – openly only to contributions from students, alumni, and professors of that major faculty at the university.

In Aleksandra Ziolkowska's Dreams and Reality, there is a section about "Mark, A Journalist with a Future" (pp. 313-330). This is Mark Lukasiewicz -- who already in January 1982, published a series of articles from Poland, in The Globe and Mail. However, I was unable to find references to this person through various Internet searches. It appears he has not come close to becoming a household name in Canada or the United States.

Among notable younger persons, there is Joanna Szewczyk, who came to Canada when she was thirteen years old. She has completed a Journalism degree at Ryerson University.

In 2005, Anna Piszczkiewicz published a slender volume in English, Soaking in the Remnants, as a major project in her BA(Hons) in Professional Writing at University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). This described an emotional return trip to Poland at about the age of twenty, which she had left at about three and a half years of age.

In 2009, Piotr Brynczka published a book called Petrified World. It was published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, Canada's independent science fiction and fantasy press. Petrified World is a children's book that is meant to be read as a sort of interactive adventure. Choosing a few out of a number of possible magical abilities when a person begins reading the book, he or she is then guided to different pages of the book depending on the choices they make, resulting in different outcomes.

In 2011, there appeared an important collection of short stories, Copernicus Avenue, by Andrew J. Borkowski (Cormorant). He is a Polish-Canadian born and raised in Toronto's Roncesvalles Village, and the stories are somewhat fictionalized renderings of actual people and scenes in this area of Polish settlement in Toronto. He was able to bring this book into being after one of his published short stories had been nominated in 2007 for a major Canadian short story award. The appearance of Borkowski's book may be seen as a huge breakthrough in Polish-Canadian writing endeavour. Perhaps it creates some greater hope that other Polish-Canadian writers and themes may become more acceptable to so-called "CanLit". Copernicus Avenue was nominated for and won the 2012 Toronto Book Award.

A significant Polish-Canadian writer in the Toronto arts scene and in the literary landscape of Toronto, has indeed been long awaited.

In 2012, there appeared the book Giant, by Aga Maksimowska (Pedlar Press). It is a story of a Polish girl's arrival in Canada at the age of eleven, in 1989 – which coincides with the Eastern European revolutions, and her reaching of puberty – creating all kinds of interesting identity-conflicts. The book was nominated for the 2013 Toronto Book Award.

In 2013, Jowita Bydlowska has published a memoir, Drunk Mom (Doubleday, 2013), but its Polish or Polish-Canadian content is minimal. Jowita is the longtime partner of Russell Smith, a well-known Toronto writer and raconteur. While Ania Szado's gloomy first novel, Beginning of Was (Penguin Canada, 2004), had some Polish elements, there is no Polish content in her second novel, Studio St-Ex (about Antoine Saint Exupery in New York) (Viking, 2013).

So the field of English-language Polish-Canadian writing, is perhaps slowly growing.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.




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