"IAM A BASTARD," says Stratis Haviaras with barely the hint of a Greek accent, adding. "The bearer of many winds. I carry the whiffs and flavors of different times and different places: I feel them rise within my blood and sometimes they are very hot!"
More than a mere purveyor of his multi-cultural heritage. Haviaras rewrites history.
By day the energetic curator of Harvard's Farnsworth and Woodberry Poetry Rooms at Lamont Library. Haviaras says he feels most closely in touch with his "life-fluids" at night, when he prefers to write. For years he has been filling his spare hours writing poetry and fiction, and this month Simon and Schuster published his second English novel. The Heroic Age.
"I love my job," Haviaras says emphatically. He adds that although it consumes a lot of physical and mental energy "it is the best job I will ever have--outside writing."
And Haviaras has held many jobs. Born in the refugee village of Nea Kios, Greece, in 1935. Haviaras worked as a construction worker in his native land from the age of 12 for 20 years, publishing three books of Greek poetry during this time. Then, in 1967, he emigrated to Cambridge with his American wife, and found employment in the Order and Receipts section of Widener Library's basement offices.
"It was the lowest classification at Harvard, but I liked the school area," Haviaras explains. "I didn't have the training or the language for many other fields, and the library and books have always attracted me," he adds solemnly.
For the past 10 years Haviaras has been writing only in English. Claiming that "the evolution of my art in English is just endless." Haviaras asserts that this language enable him to recount some of the very personal events of his life that "simply cannot be rendered in Greek."
Haviaras published his first English book, a poetry collection called Crossing the River Twice, in 1976 for Cleveland State University Press. His first novel, the highly acclaimed When The Tree Sings, recounts the traumas of a fictional young boy growing up in Nazi-occupied Greece during World War II.
"The first book was in the domain of physical imagination, concerning memories which are deeply engraved," Haviaras says. The events in this book belong purely to the author's creative imagination, but according to him, they are based on actual events.
"I have vivid and powerful memories from those years, the kind that, for the sake of survival, one tends to suppress," Haviaras says, describing how he has only recently worked these years out through his fiction writing. "The last book left off at the crucial age of 12, and [The Heroic Age] roughly carries on the tale."
"My father was an organizer and resistance fighter in Southeast Pelopponeses." Haviaras recalls, "he was captured by the authorities [Nazis and Greek collaborators], and when my mother went to visit him she tried to have him sent to a concentration camp rather than face an immediate execution." He refused to sign his own release, preferring to die. Havarias' mother attempted unsuccessfully to forge her husband's signature at the prison where young Stratis last saw his father.
"He was arrested and sent to Bergen-Belsen, eventually returning to Germany by 1947," Havarias continues. "It was in a converted Venetian castle that was used as a prison that my father killed. He was 34, and I was just nine."
Haviaras lived out the remainder of the war in relative safety with his grandmother in Athens, "where it was easy to hide in the anonymous slums."
Many years later. Haviaras remembers a special twenty-fourth birthday party given for him during the year he spent abroad in New York.
"Marilyn Monroe was a friend of a friend [a New York writer], and she showed up with her husband Arthur Miller," laughs Haviaras. "She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, with a truly unusual quality of light about her, a radiance that I have only seen once before."