Ukrainian Women Writers:
An English Language Series

The end of 1998 heralded an unprecedented event in the Canadian publishing world, one which has great historical significance for Ukrainian culture. Made possible by the efforts of two dedicated individuals, an English language series entitled Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature was created. This brave initiative is awe inspiring, particularly as two volumes of the series have already appeared in print; the publishers promise that three additional volumes will be published in the coming year.

It is interesting to note that had an organized Ukrainian women’s movement followed the precepts of its founder, Nataliya Kobrynska, we would have had such a series long ago. In her essay "On the Primary Goal of the Society of Ruthenian Women in Stanislav," which appeared in 1887, in Pershiy Vinok (The First Garland), Kobrynska wrote: "We have set ourselves the task of nurturing the development of the woman’s spirit through literature, because literature has always been a true reflection of the light and dark pages of society, its needs and shortcomings." Kobrynska even devised a practical plan for achieving this "primary goal." She had no expectations of government funding, nor did she rely on the sponsorship of wealthy foundations. She proposed, instead, the creation of a standing publishing fund that would be initiated and maintained by the organization itself, through contributions from members, fundraising events such as dinners and concerts, lotteries, etc. "The proceeds should be used," wrote Kobrynska, "for the publication of books, both of original [Ukrainian] works and works in translation." But even during her lifetime, the women’s movement she founded ignored her advice. The funds collected for the publication of a women writers’ almanac, were allocated by the organization’s leaders for the purchase of a silver tray for the new bishop! And The First Garland, in which Kobrynska’s essay appeared, would never have been published had it not been personally funded by Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska herself. A Ukrainian language women writers series did not materialize in Ukraine; today, the series is a reality--in English translation!

In the West, women’s literature evokes much interest, and not only among the literati. For where, if not in the works of women writers, can one find a true reflection of society where woman is not an equal partner in politics, economics, religion, or education, even though she bears on her shoulders the bulk of the responsibility for the cornerstone of this society--the welfare of the family, the nurturing and upbringing of future generations?

Today as in the past, the philanthropy of private patrons has raised the dignity of Ukrainian culture and has created a priceless legacy for the future. Just as Olena Pchilka and Nataliya Kobrynska succeeded in publishing the first Ukrainian women’s almanac, two Canadians of Ukrainian descent, Roma Franko and Sonia Morris, have succeeded in creating Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature. For this project, the two sisters have contributed not only their knowledge and their intensive labor, but their own money. Together, they are the founders of Language Lanterns Publications (based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) which in 1998, released the first two volumes of the Ukrainian women writers series.

Roma Franko, until recently, was head of the Department of Slavic Studies and Modern Languages at the University of Saskatchewan. Her work with students convinced her that there is a significant market for Ukrainian literature in translation, not only for readers of Ukrainian descent. Sonia Morris was a faculty member and administrator in the university’s College of Education, specializing in psycholinguistics and the issue of bilingualism (Ukrainian-English) in Canada. Retiring from their respective careers in the academic world, the sisters decided to devote the rest of their lives to this unique project, Roma Franko as translator and Sonia Morris as editor.

The series promises to show the English language reader selected short prose of Ukrainian women writers of the 19th century and will feature works by Olena Pchilka, Nataliya Kobrynska, Dniprova Chayka, Lyubov Yanovska, Olha Kobylianska, Yevhenia Yaroshynska, Hrytsko Hryhorenko, Lesia Ukrainka, and in a separate volume, stories for children by various Ukrainian women writers.

In the forward to the series, the founders discuss the need for a retrospective analysis which would explain, in part, the first tentative steps, taken one hundred years ago, on the long, tortuous road toward political, economic and social equality, a road which women in Ukraine still travel. As the publishers of the series point out, the writers whose works are featured do not speak with one voice; their works do not always touch upon feminist themes. Furthermore, the authors are differentiated from one another by differences in their respective literary skills and creative talents. They are, however, united in their faith in the power of literature, which is for each of them a vehicle of self-expression and an attempt to influence community activism, and by the fact that they are the observers and interpreters of reality form a woman’s worldview.

Marta Tarnawsky
University of Pennsylvania

Review reproduced with the author’s permission.

This review originally appeared in the July-August 1999 edition of "Nashe Zhytya."

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