On Thursday April 4, Seton Hall University’s Slavic Club and Russian and Eastern European Studies Program hosted four Eastern European writers, all hailing from different cultures and presenting different forms of writing.
The event was held in Fahy Hall and was attended by students and members of the community alike. It spurred an excellent discussion on cultural relativism, the immigrant experience, language, and, of course, writing.
The first speaker of the night was Ileana Nachescu. Nachescu read the first chapter of her current project, titled “Memoirs of a Socialist Childhood.” The memoir delves into what her young life was like in Romania, both the good and the bad
Next, she read a sarcastic essay titled, “How to Write about Eastern Europe” that she wrote in response to an infuriating, out-of-touch article she encountered about her native Romania. The essay is styled as a fake writing style guide and it gives hypothetical journalists instructions such as reminding them to mention supposed medieval values or to imply that Eastern Europe is stuck in the Cold War.
The next speaker was Marek Kulig, a Polish immigrant who writes both poetry and fiction. He shared eight original poems with the audience, including themes such as the absurdity of modern life, his dislike for the strange cadence that many poets read with, and how he connects to his heritage via memories of his grandfather.
Kulig even shared a poem titled, “My Grandpa Asked me to Say Polish Things in English,” wherein he switches sporadically between both Polish and English and creates rhymes across both languages. He finished his reading with his cover of a Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński poem about the Warsaw Uprising.
Ivan Bojanic, the next writer. brought a light and comedic tone to the evening with his retelling of an ill-fated summer evening spent with an eccentric aunt in Belgrade. He describes being dragged to a play late in the evening only to be kicked out when his aunt began heckling the actors
Though hilarious and full of twists, the story had a melancholic overtone spurred by the audience’s knowledge of the conflict that would break out in Yugoslavia in the years that followed. Bojanic notes that there was no hint of the ethnic conflict that was soon to follow in the setting of the poems. As a sixteen-year-old, it seemed to him that the most volatile thing in Serbia was his aunt.
The final speaker of the night was Seton Hall’s own Professor Maxim Matusevich, the director of Seton Hall’s Russian and Eastern European Studies Program. Professor Matusevich read an excerpt from a fiction project he is in the process of writing. He describes the story as not quite a love story, but rather a story of lost love tinged with post-Soviet malaise.
The excerpt he shared detailed an unnamed narrator’s ill-fated trip to Prague with his significant other, who he is no longer together with by the end of the trip. The rest of the excerpt shows the character trying to win his lover back by undertaking the ill-fated task of locating a red dress which she accidently left behind and shipping it back to her in Russia.
After all the readings, the writers took questions both about their work and their life experiences in general. They discussed the age-old question of where to begin when writing as well as the unique struggles they encounter while writing in a non-native language. They also discussed the perception of Eastern European culture as cynical and addressed other stereotypes.
The writers finished the event by delivering the message that humor is a natural reaction when faced with harrowing circumstances beyond one’s control. They also said that people are not permanently broken by wartime trauma or political turmoil as popular culture would like to suggest. The writers contended that despite an individual’s experiences, it is still possible to lead a wholesome and full life.