NATION OF WORD
The Boatswain's Radovan Gajic has been a writer since his boyhood days in Yugoslavia. He remembers he was different than other kids; he didn't fit in to the football games that they were playing. He was busy writing short stories and journals. Gajic has published several works in Serbian, including Rains of Kosovo, 1989, and The Damned Boatman of the Danube, 1990. His second book in English, The Silence of Word, is forthcoming. The Hostage of T. City was his first work in English, expressing the frustrations an immigrant feels in being held hostage by a foreign language:
Who are the hostagetakers?Stojanka Petkovic is another Serbian poet writing in Canada. Her most recent book is War Geography, soon to be translated into English. It won the 1998 Serbian Writers in Diaspora Award, given by the Emigrants of Serbia Writers Association, a Serbia organization that encourages its people, wherever they have resettled, to continue their writing. Petkovic describes her work as documentary poetry, inspired by the horrors of the Yugoslavian war. In publishing War Geography, the hope was "to never be able to write such a book again." Sorrily, she is now watching as the crisis in her homeland continues, but at a distance this time, as a Serbian Canadian.
The Serbian community in Canada is enriched by many writers who maintain a connection with their war-torn homeland and heritage through writing. They are supported and encouraged in their efforts by various associations and organizations which see the preservation and growth of Serbian culture as an essential element in the existence of Serbian Canadians and their community.
The Association of Writers and Poets - Desanka Maksimovic was founded in 1978 when its namesake, the famous Serbian poetess Desanka Maksimovic, made a visit Canada. Maksimovic is known for inspiring and encouraging the writers in Diaspora to preserve their national and cultural heritage by writing in their mother tongue.(2)
Due to the ongoing war in former Yugoslavia, many members have left the association, feeling apprehensive about belonging to an organization associated with Serbia. But others still remain - dedicated writers and literature lovers who believe that the Association's activities make a difference. Over the years the Association has published two anthologies of Serbian Canadian writers, Say, I'm Going to Tell You My Secrets, 1999 and From Hearts to the Homeland, 1989. Both are available in bilingual English Serbian versions.
Other activities of the Association include poetry readings, book presentations of writers who live here in Canada as well as guest writers from Serbia, and evenings in memory of celebrated Serbian writers. Many of them have been lost to the wars that inspired them to write. Those like, Ljiljana Zikic. Zikic wrote in Canada for a few years on a tourist visa and returned to her homeland in only two years ago after failing to attain status as a landed immigrant. Ljiljana Zikic has just recently been killed during the war in Kosovo.
The co-founder and current president of The Association of Poets and Writers is Katarina Kostic. She was born in Sabac, Yugoslavia and studied at the University of Belgrade, specialising in French language and literature. She came to Canada in 1973. Her poems have been published in a number of journals in Canada, as well as in the former Yugoslavia. Her collection of poems Runaway Landscapes includes this poem, "The Slavic Anti(Thesis) - To Desanka Maksimovic":
The parent organization of
the Association of Writers and Poets is The Serbian Heritage Academy
of Canada. It was established in 1981 as a non-profit organization
with the goal of preserving art, culture and literature of the Serbs in
Diaspora and in Serbia. It Academy's mandate includes:
Radovan Gajic, as a Serbian Canadian and an emigrant of the former Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists, contends that "I belong only to the nation of word." It is the literature and writing of Serbian Canadians that sustains Gajic and his community; it provide a bridge connecting them to their lost heritage and homeland. Through words and literature their heritage and culture endures. And as Stojanka Petkovic says, "It will carry us through to better days."