A Street Named for Ona Šimaitė in Her Beloved City of Vilnius

Street-sign-for-Simaite

I woke up this morning to the news that a street had been named for Ona Šimaitė, the subject of my second book, Epistolophilia. Šimaitė was a librarian, a feminist, a deep thinker, an obsessive letter writer, and a Holocaust rescuer. She loved Vilnius and its people, books, libraries, churches, theatres and markets. No doubt, the knowledge that one of its streets now bears her name would have moved her deeply. She didn’t believe in riches (she was a hardcore leftist who didn’t even believe in owning property!), but she loved words and had a deep reverence for humane gestures like this one. I think she would have approved.

I thank all those who have worked quietly (or not so quietly) to have her honored this way. I can’t wait to walk the street myself.

Photo courtesy of Defending History. You can read more about the naming ceremony via this link.

Share

Epistolophilia: Women’s Review of Books

JapanReading

A generous and exacting review of Epistolophilia  appears in the current issue of the Women’s Review of Books. Rochelle Godlberg Ruthchild writes:

Šukys, in a true labor of love, rescues a remarkably brave woman from history’s dustbin, and in the process complicates the narrative about Lithuania during the Holocaust and the postwar period.

Epistolophilia here is paired with Marianne Hirsch’s The Generation of Post Memory.

You can read the review here.

[Photo: janwillemsen]

 

 

Share

Julija Sukys Talks to CKUT Radio About Creative Nonfiction and Canada Writes

Canada Writes

I was honoured to be chosen as a reader for the Canada Writes creative nonfiction competition for 2013. Over the winter months, I sifted through hundreds of submissions that arrived at my door every few days in fat yellow envelopes. Now, at long last, the shortlist and winner have been announced.

Last week, I talked to Anne Malcolm, host of The Monday Morning After at CKUT Radio in Montreal, about creative nonfiction in general and about being a Canada Writes reader in particular. Even though I have a bit of a phobia of hearing to audio of myself, I took the plunge and sat down to take a listen to the interview and decided it wasn’t so bad.

You can listen to the CKUT interview with Anne Malcolm here.

You can read my Q & A (the one I refer to in the radio interview) about being a Canada Writes judge here. 

[Photo: .sarahwynne.]

Share

Epistolophilia Wins Canadian Jewish Book Award

Sukys

I’m so happy to announce that Epistolophilia has won the 2013 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for Holocaust Literature. 

Here’s the jury citiation:

HOLOCAUST LITERATURE

Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė

By Julija Šukys Published by University of Nebraska Press

Epistolophilia presents a new type of reading of Holocaust texts. Julija Šukys, a young Montreal-based scholar, tells the story of a genuine heroine of the Holocaust recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous. Time and again Ona Šimaitė would slip into the Vilna ghetto to bring in food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents and leave with letters, manuscripts, and even sedated children swathed in sacks. In 1944 she was captured by the Gestapo, tortured, and deported to Dachau.

Julija Šukys sifted through mounds of letters and diaries to paint a portrait of a remarkable life. Šukys injects herself into the book, writing about her more than eight year journey researching and writing the book, discovering Šimaitė and the emotional connection that comes through a link to the past.

The official reception and awards ceremony:

Thursday, June 6, 8 PM | FREE
The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon
at the Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge St., Toronto

 

Share

Edmonton Reading: April 29, 5:00 pm

EdmontonCowboy

OMNIBUS 2012-3 CANADIAN AUTHORS SERIES EVENT, MONDAY, APRIL 29, 5 P.M.

GERALD HILL. CASSIE STOCKS. JULIJA ŠUKYS.

UPPER CRUST CAFE, SOUTH EDMONTON. 10909-86 AVE.

Gerald Hill is the author of Fourteen Tractors (NeWest Press, 2009),
 for which he won the 2009 Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry. He has 
published four other collections of poetry: My Human Comedy (Coteau
Books, 2008), Getting To Know You (Spotted Cow Press, 2003), The ManFrom Saskatchewan (Coteau Press, 2001), and Heartwood (Thistledown
Press, 1985). He lives in Regina, where he teaches English and 
Creative Writing at Luther College at the University of Regina.

MacEwan University grad Cassie Stocks has just been awarded the 2013 
Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour for her first novel Dance, Gladys,
 Dance. She lives in Eston, Saskatchewan.

Narrative nonfiction writer and biographer Julija Šukys is the author
 of Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė (University of 
Nebraska Press, 2012). Šukys follows the letters and journals of
 Šimaitė (1894–1970), a Lithuanian librarian who for several years 
aided Jews in the Vilnius ghetto during German occupation. Eventually,
her activities were detected by the Gestapo and Šimaitė was sent to 
Dachau. Journeying through thousands of letters, scores of diaries, 
articles, and press clippings, Šukys negotiates with the ghost of
 Šimaitė, beckoning back to life this quiet and worldly heroine—a giant 
of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honoured “Righteous Among the
Nations”). The result is at once a mediated self-portrait and a 
measured perspective on a remarkable life. It reveals the meaning of life-writing, how women write their lives publicly and privately, and
 how their words attach them—and us—to life. Šukys is also the author 
of Silence Is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout (University of 
Nebraska Press, 2007). She lives in Montreal.

[Photo: sahlgoode]

Share

Seven Dos and Don’ts of a DIY Book Tour: Reflections on a Season of Travel, Talks, and Readings

Reading at The Bookworm in Omaha. Photo: Algis Praitis.

Reading at The Bookworm in Omaha. Photo: Algis Praitis.

Lately, I’ve been away from home a lot. And it’s all been in service of my book, Epistolophilia.

My “book tour” — as my sister-in-law so generously called the series of lectures, conferences and readings that I almost single-handedly organized and raised money for — has, since November, taken me from Toronto to Chicago to NYC, Washington DC, Worcester, Mass., then Missouri, Nebraska, Boston (twice!), and a few different venues here in Montreal.

Along the way, I’ve been greeted with heart-warming generosity and support. I’ve met readers who loved the book and wanted their copies signed, librarians and archivists who thanked me for giving them a hero, survivors and their children, young university students who were sweetly nervous to talk to me, and many colleagues and new friends who gave selflessly of their time to make my visits run smoothly.

Talking to readers and signing books at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Photo: John Nollendorfs.

Talking to readers and signing books at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Photo: John Nollendorfs.

Highlights included wine and cheese at a little NYC bistro with a French-Litvak documentary film maker, meeting a writer-researcher in Worcester whose book has been helpful to me in my current work, dinner with 7 feminist scholars after a reading at Assumption College, and witnessing the machine that my Nebraska friend Gediminas Murauskas (below) set in motion — namely, a whirlwind series of readings and meetings in Lincoln and Omaha that made me feel like some sort of rock star.

With Gediminas Murauskas at Creighton University, Omaha. Photo: Algis Praitis.

With Gediminas Murauskas at Creighton University, Omaha. Photo: Algis Praitis.

Last of all, there was the frenzied embarrassment of riches that is the AWP Conference — a meeting of 12,000 writers — held in Boston this year. I met essayists I’ve been corresponding with for a while and whose work I love, discovered new (to me) authors and books, listened to stimulating panels about CNF and memoir, and witnessed big-name writers read and talk about their work in a way that was familiar and friendly (Augusten Burroughs, Cheryl Strayed, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heeney, Phillip Lopate, David Shields, Pam Houston, Roxanne Gay…and on and on). There were dinners and lunches to share with writer friends, wine glasses to clink, and much to learn.

Along the way, my son and husband have been forgiving of my absences. We all understand that this is temporary, but that supporting a book and meeting with readers is part of the job of a writer.

At The Bookworm in Omaha. Looking especially tired beside the publicity materials. Photo: Gediminas Murauskas.

At The Bookworm in Omaha. Looking especially tired beside the publicity materials. Photo: Gediminas Murauskas.

So, what did I learn about “touring” a book? Here are seven things, off the top of my head. If I come up with more, I’ll share those in the days to come.

  1. Consider all invitations seriously, even those from smaller and less glamorous places. Readers are readers, and if they are reading your book, be gracious. Don’t be a snob.
  2. Don’t go broke for the tour. I applied for grants to attend conferences and tapped into local funds available to support the arts. Embassies and universities can be good sources of funding. Sometimes all you need to do is ask.
  3. Arrange to have books for selling/signing sent ahead to wherever you are reading. This avoids shlepping 30 pounds of paper onto a plane.
  4. Pace yourself. The process is both exhilarating and exhausting. Don’t underestimate how tiring it is for an introvert to be “on” for several hours. Give yourself time to recover so your mood doesn’t turn nasty.
  5. Try developing 3 or so versions of a talk, so that you can pick the most appropriate one, depending on the venue and audience.
  6. Photographs and other visual materials are very effective at literary talks. Travel with a data stick and arrange technology in advance, but be flexible enough to go without visuals at the last minute in case you hit a technical snag.
  7. Don’t punish those who came. Some of your events will hugely attended and others might be tiny meetings. Do what every writer on a book tour tells you to do: read and speak as if the room were full, even if there are only 7 people present, including you.
Reading at Creighton University, Omaha. Photo: Algis Praitis.

Reading at the huge auditorium at Creighton University, Omaha. It was a great turnout. Photo: Algis Praitis.

 

Share

Maisonneuve Magazine Names Epistolophilia One of the Best Books of 2012

Maisonneuve Magazine is published out of Montreal and “has been described as a new New Yorker for a younger generation, or as Harper’s meets Vice, or as Vanity Fair without the vanity.” The quarterly offers “a diverse range of commentary across the arts, sciences, daily and social life.”

When the publication asked its contributors to share their favourite reads of the year, Crystal Chan chose Epistolophilia by yours truly. Here’s what she says about it:

The book…evolves into a meditation on those at the margins of society (women, Jews, gentiles in Holocaust literature, Lithuanians, the mentally ill), and the power and place of archives and texts. What does it mean to be a woman who writes? By embedding herself into her book, Šukys managed to write a book that’s equal parts biography, personal travel memoir, and anthology of wartime correspondence, but that also transcends these genres. Most of all, this is a book-length essay in the tradition of Virgina Woolf.

My favourite line is the last one. To be considered as working in the tradition of Virginia Woolf — what a gift.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Bonnes Fêtes, su šventėm!

May the coming year bring you peace, good health, and good writing.

[Photo: 2day929]

Share

Epistolophilia Long-Listed for Charles Taylor Award in Literary Non-Fiction

As I posted on Facebook, I will admit that my hands shook for a while after learning the news that my book, Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė has been long-listed for the Charles Taylor Prize in Literary Non-Fiction. It’s an enormous honour.

THE CHARLES TAYLOR PRIZE commemorates Charles Taylor’s pursuit of excellence in the field of literary non-fiction. The prize will be awarded to the author whose book best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception. The prize consists of $25,000 for the winner and $2,000 for each of the runners up as well as promotional support to help all shortlisted books stand out in the national media, bookstores, and libraries. Authors whose books have been shortlisted for the prize will be brought to Toronto for the awards ceremony. The winner will be invited to read at the International Festival of Authors, held in October at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

You can find the entire long-list here.

Share

Epistolophilia Shortlisted for Mavis Gallant Award in Nonfiction

I keep wanting to sit down and write a thoughtful post for the blog, and then something happens that I realize I should share: a reading, a review, and so on.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I’m thrilled.

So here’s this week’s announcement: my book has been shortlisted for a literary prize.

The shortlist for the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Mavis Gallant Prize in Nonfiction is very short indeed. It comprises 3 books.

Yours truly:

and two others:

  • Taras Grescoe, Straphanger
  • William Marsden, Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change

Grescoe and Marsden are both seasoned and award-winning writers, so I’m particularly honoured to be in their company. The winner will be announced on November 20th, at the Quebec Writers’ Federation Gala.

It should be lots of fun, and I’m thinking of getting a new frock for the occasion! I’ll keep you posted and share some photos of the event.

There is a whole slew of prizes that will be handed out on the 20th. You can read about all the nominees here.

Share

Reading, Westmount Library, Montreal: October 10, 2012

Share