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 Womens 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 womens 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
womans 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 womens movement she founded ignored her advice. The funds collected
for the publication of a women writers almanac, were allocated by the
organizations leaders for the purchase of a silver tray for the new bishop! And The
First Garland, in which Kobrynskas 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, womens 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
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 womens almanac,
two Canadians of Ukrainian descent, Roma Franko and Sonia Morris, have succeeded in
creating Womens 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
universitys 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 womans worldview.
University of Pennsylvania
Review reproduced with the authors permission.
This review originally appeared in the July-August 1999 edition of "Nashe
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