An Interview with Mark Andryczyk, Editor of The White Chalk of Days


Academic Studies Press is delighted to present this interview—our first in a series—with Mark Andryczyk, editor of The White Chalk of Days: The Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series Anthology

The White Chalk of Days presents translations of literary works by Ukrainian authors that imaginatively engage pivotal issues in today’s Ukraine and express its tribulations and jubilations. Featuring poetry, fiction, and essays by fifteen Ukrainian writers, the anthology offers English-language readers a wide array of the most beguiling literature written in Ukraine in the past fifty years.

Academic Studies Press: Some of the pieces in The White Chalk of Days are just now being published in English for the first time. Can you speak to the significance of this? 

Mark Andryczyk: I am very happy that The White Chalk of Days is premiering many contemporary Ukrainian literature texts in English translation. The anthology is composed of texts that reflect the decade-long Contemporary Ukrainian Literature Series, which, annually since 2008, has been bringing writers to New York City and Washington, D.C. for readings. In other words, the volume offers texts that were presented by the Series’ fourteen guests at their events. In a few cases, we included existing translations that had not been created specifically for Series events, some of which had already been published. However, most translations in the anthology are appearing in print for the first time. This is a very exciting time for contemporary Ukrainian literature in English translation. The circle of translators working in the field is ever-widening and more and more translations are being published every year. As someone who has been involved in this endeavor since the early years of Ukraine’s independence, I am elated that my anthology is a key contributor to this development. And as someone who has been teaching contemporary Ukrainian literature for over a decade, I am pleased that The White Chalk of Days will be among those tools that will help me and my colleagues worldwide teach this subject going forward.

ASP: “The white chalk of days” is such a vibrant image—why did you choose this line from Ivan Malkovych’s “an evening (goose) pastoral” for the title of the anthology?

MA: I was searching for a title that was original, unexpected and mysterious but that also organically stemmed from the anthology—from its contents and from what inspired it. To that end, the line, as you mentioned, comes from an actual Ivan Malkovych poem (in Michael Naydan’s translation) that was read at Series events and that, subsequently, is featured in the anthology. That line includes the words “chalk” and “days,” which I thought were fitting because the Series involved the presentation of written texts and because the anthology commemorates a span of time—a decade—and events that were held on certain days during this time span. Finally, in Ivan’s poem, light is contrasted with darkness, and one of the goals of the Series was to have today’s Ukrainian writers meet with audiences who, in most cases, know very little about Ukraine and its culture. By being introduced to contemporary Ukrainian literature, and by being able to pose questions to its leading authors, the hope was that these forums could illuminate Ukraine for them. These explanations notwithstanding, I hope that the title still retains an element of mystery for those who encounter it so that they are drawn to the book.

ASP: What sorts of challenges does one encounter in translating poetry into English?

MA: Most of my translations in the anthology are of prose works. My fellow translators handled most of the poetry translations and I think they’ve done a great job. Certainly, there are challenges in passing along metaphors, people, places, and objects that are present and relevant in Ukraine but less so outside it. And this rendering should be done, in my opinion, with a minimal amount footnotes. What is key, of course, is to deliver the essence of the original poem, all of its qualities, in its translation. It’s about moving revered things from one place to another. You may have noticed that, in some cases, translators of poetry in this volume have worked in pairs in order to address these challenges, myself included. The majority of the poems that I did translate for the book were written in free verse, which simplified their translation into English. On occasion, I’ve used a rather peculiar approach when translating a poem. As a musician who has written and performed songs based on Ukrainian poems with my band Yeezhak, I sometimes try to sing the same song that I had written for the original, Ukrainian text but now utilizing my English translation of the poem to see if the song has become significantly altered. This doesn’t always prove to be useful but it sure is fun trying.

ASP: Can you recommend a poem or prose piece from the anthology for anyone new to Ukrainian literature?

MA: This anthology presents authors who write in very different styles, in various genres and on myriad themes, so it really is difficult to praise one more than another. In this book, I wanted to present a broad assortment of some of the exciting things that make up contemporary Ukrainian literature today. Thus, it will be valuable, as a whole, for those who are new to Ukrainian literature. I am sure that each reader of the anthology will find some texts more to their liking than others. It is my hope that these readers will then pursue other writings by their favorite authors, whose works have been translated into English in other publications (I provide a list of some of such publications in the anthology’s introduction) and whose works will undoubtedly be published, as a result of this recent increased attention given to contemporary Ukrainian literature, in the future.

To learn more about The White Chalk of Days, and to read excerpts from the anthology, please visit The White Chalk of Days interactive webpage

Since 2007 Mark Andryczyk has been teaching Ukrainian literature at Columbia University and administering the Ukrainian Studies Program at its Harriman Institute. He is author of the monograph The Intellectual as Hero in 1990s Ukrainian Fiction (University of Toronto Press, 2012) – Ukrainian edition (Piramida, 2014) – and a translator of Ukrainian literature into English.