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Iryna Yakovenko (Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University)

Iryna Yakovenko

Iryna Yakovenko
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Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"

June – December 2022

Ukrainian History, Ethnicity and Cultural Memory in Contemporary American and Canadian Literatures

North American authors of Ukrainian descent, who write in English, contribute greatly to the promulgation of the Ukrainian heritage in the USA and Canada by bringing Ukrainian themes and cultural issues to the forefront in their literature. In their novels, short stories and memoirs, Ukrainian Canadian and Ukrainian American wo/men of letters tell the complex stories of expatriates – first-, second- and third-generation North Americans who retain their spiritual and cultural bonds with the land of their birth, reviving the tragic history of Ukraine and enlivening the ethnic code of the nation cemented by cultural memory. The artistic contribution of contemporary American and Canadian writers with Ukrainian ancestry behind them is quite sizeable, but their cultural production has received little scholarly attention in American, Canadian or Ukrainian academia. Contemporary authors of Ukrainian descent, who write in English, are invisible in literature anthologies, and under-represented in the scholarly discourse.

The proposed research project seeks to explore representations of Ukrainian ethnic code, literary reflections on the tragic Ukrainian past and their intersections with cultural memory in the oeuvre of American and Canadian authors of Ukrainian descent. The diasporic literature offers an in-depth portrayal of immigrants and American/Canadian citizens of Ukrainian ancestry. Through close readings of the novels and memoirs, the proposed research focuses on representations of Ukrainian history marked by wars, genocide, the Famine (Holodomor), poverty, oppression, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and on the exemplifications of Ukrainian culture and traditions, the intricate ornament of mythology and archetypes, the correlation between the personal experience of the writers with hyphenated (Ukrainian American/Canadian) identities and cultural memory. In the comparative perspective the research explores the issues of forced expulsion and migration, national and family histories, memory and forgetting, ethnicity and identity, language (as collective frame of memory), and culture in the literary oeuvre of Askold Melnyczuk, Alexander J. Motyl, Irene Zabytko, Vera Lysenko, Myrna Kostash, Janice Kulyk Keefer, and Lisa Grekul.

Iryna Yakovenko is an associate professor at the Department of Linguistics and Translation, Institute of Philology, Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University, Ukraine. Since she received her doctorate in 2004 from Kyiv National Linguistic University, Iryna Yakovenko has been teaching courses on World Literature, History of American Literature, Analytical and Critical Readings of Contemporary Anglophone Prose. Her research interests include American literature and ethnic studies, Ukrainian diasporic studies, comparative literature, cultural and memory studies. Her publications explore African American women’s poetry and the Black Arts Movement, including the works of Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Harryette Mullen, and Natasha Trethewey. Iryna Yakovenko has also published on ecofeminist writings, and the prose of 19th- and 20th-century American writers. Previous research fellowships included the 2014 Study of the United States Institute on Contemporary American Literature (University of Louisville, USA), research grants from John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (2018, 2020).