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World Conference in Contemporary Armenian Literature at UCLA

The Narekatsi chair of Armenian Studies at UCLA is organizing a conference devoted to contemporary Armenian literature to be held on campus at the Rolfe Hall auditorium on the weekend of April 7-8. The two-day conference will examine different aspects of the literature composed over the last ten to fifteen years in the course of six panels.

The first of these, commencing on Saturday morning at 9:30, will deal with the broad topic of defining the period and highlighting the major trends, which have characterized it. Tumultuous events have shaped it such as the rise of the Karabakh Movement and the subsequent war to protect the region’s independence, the earthquake in the north of Armenia, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Armenia as a sovereign republic, the hardships caused by the Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades, the struggles of the transition to a market economy, the impact of all these developments on the communities of the Diaspora, and the introduction of a new era in Armenia-Diaspora cooperation and interchange. This last decade of unprecedented pride, joy, challenge, and striving to respond to a new set of circumstances has inevitably evoked a range of reactions from Armenian writers, especially after the lifting of Soviet censorship in the republic.

After the opening by Prof. S. Peter Cowe of UCLA, these general trends will be explored in detail by Prof. Azat Eghiazaryan, director of the Institute of Literature affiliated with the Armenian Academy of Sciences. He will then be followed by Dr. Seyran Grigoryan, Dr. Grigor Hakobyan, and Dr. Aleksandr Topchyan, who will review in turn the current state of the three main literary genres of poetry, prose writing (novel and short story), and drama. Setting the pattern for the other panels, these initial presentations will be succeeded first by a series of select readings from contemporary literary works illustrating the topic of the panel and then by a round table discussion featuring a number of notable writers and critics. In all about fifteen representatives will be coming from the Armenian Republic and around the same number from various centers in the Diaspora – Middle East, Europe and North America.

After lunch the conference will reconvene for a further two panels. The first of these, to be introduced by Prof. Khachig Tölölyan of Wesleyan University, Connecticut, will discuss the crucial issue of the Armenian writer’s place in society and how that role is to be currently defined. The second then broaches the controversial theme of taboos in Armenian literature, a vital question in view of the lifting of censorship. Discussion will be initiated by a paper from Prof. Mark Nichanian of Columbia University, New York, and then pursued by the round table of writers before being opened to a question and answer session from the floor.

Particularly during the long stretches of history without a state infrastructure, Armenian culture has played a crucial role in maintaining a sense of continuing ethnic tradition. This question becomes the focus of attention in the fourth panel commencing at 1 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon. The theme of literature and Armenian identity will be broached by Dr. Rubina Peroomian, the first doctoral candidate to receive her degree from the UCLA program in Armenian language and culture under the supervision of Prof. Avedis K. Sanjian. After a brief coffee break focus will turn to an increasingly important phenomenon of the current time, that of literature composed by writers of Armenian descent in languages other than Armenian, of which the best-known twentieth century example is probably that of William Saroyan. The topic will be broached in a paper by Prof. Lorne Shirinian of the Royal Military Academy of Canada, who, in addition to his works of literary criticism, is also a widely published author of poetry and fiction in English.

After another coffee break, the final panel then takes up the question of the literary impact of translating foreign literature into Armenian. This process has been a means of enriching the Armenian literary tradition ever since the animated activity of Mashtots and his pupils, which made a significant contribution to the Golden Age of the fifth century. Similarly, the opportunity to translate into Armenian authors once banned for their political views has been widely exploited in the republic and has sparked a number of new directions in Armenian literature. The subject will be explored first in the presentations by Prof. Artem Harutyunyan of Yerevan State University for Eastern Armenian and Mr. Boghos Snabian, editor of the literary review ‘Pakin’, for Western Armenian. Discussion will then pass to a round table of writers and translators and conclude with a period of question and answer from the floor. Parking for the main conference has been arranged in Parking Structure P5 immediately next to Rolfe Hall for the convenience of attendees. The conference is open to the public. All are welcome. For further information contact cowe@humnet.ucla.edu or call (310) 825-1307 or (818) 240-7080.

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