Michael Dedes, Founder of mygreekbookshelf. Interview conducted by Tony Kariotis of GreekPosts.com
Tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Michael Dedes and I was born and raised in Rochester, NY. My undergraduate degree is in Spanish Literature and Culture and Modern Greek Studies from NYU and my masters degree is in Higher Education Administration from Syracuse University. I worked in higher education administration for about 10 years until I decided it was time for a change. I work in the family business of restaurant management currently alongside my dad in addition to working on creative endeavors like mygreekbookshelf and writing.
What does being Greek mean to you?
This question is complex. I think at the forefront, having a connection to Greece and every-day Greek culture; both my parents are from the tiny village of Drosopigi near Florina and our every day life in the United States was and is colored with not only Greek traditions but traditions that specifically come from Drosopigi. I have been fortunate to have traveled to Greece several times to visit family and friends and explore where my family roots are. Being Greek is full of contradictions; it's working on yourself as an individual to be the best you can be but also giving your time and being part of the larger community that has provided for and supported you.
What makes you proud calling yourself Greek?
Being someone who has always been interested in history, it is the history of Greece that makes me proud to call myself Greek. Greece is more than her classical legacy and if you dive deep into the Greece of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Occupation, the Kingdom of Greece and the modern nation-state that exists today you will find a plethora of examples where individual Greeks and the nation itself were up against the wall and somehow mustered the strength and courage in the eleventh hour to fight back and live on for another day. I am proud to be Greek because of the saying, "Οι Ελληνες δεν το βαζουν κατω"
What inspired you to start mygreekbookshelf?
My love of reading. Through my courses in Modern Greek Studies at NYU my professor, Liana Theodoratou (Hi Liana!), exposed me to a world of modern Greek literature with which I had never interacted. Growing up Greek in the diaspora you know Homer, you know Sophocles because that is what is taught in Greek school. Through these courses though I learned about the novels and messages of Dido Sotiriou, Stratis Tsirkas, and Nikos Kazantzakis and the poetry of Yiannis Ritsos. Yet, despite learning so much from their words, I still craved to find a representation and an understanding of what it meant to be a person identifying as Greek who was born in and lives in another country. When I started to research years later, that is when I found books by Natalie Bakopoulous and Annie Liontas, Greek-Americans who were writing about the Greek experience in other parts of the world. It has been a struggle finding these authors and their works so I decided that I would start a blog on Instagram that brought my findings together so it would be easier for others and that is how mygreekbookshelf was born.
Tell us a little bit about mygreekbookshelf!
Through mygreekbookshelf my goal is to showcase the novels, poetry, short stories, and anything else written by Greeks who live in the diaspora communities around the world all the while doing my part in breaking down the stereotypes that Greeks are just ouzo drinking, lamb eating, and plate breaking one-dimensional people that unfortunately I feel has become the only image of Greeks in the United States, if not in many other Greek diaspora communities around the world as well. As Greeks, we are just as complex as any other person in existence and our stories of struggle and success are just as important to bring to light. It has been so fun and intellectually stimulating to find and read novels about Greek diner life in the United States, about Greeks living in exile in Paris during the 1960s fleeing the military coup d'etat, and even reading books written in French by Greek authors living in French-speaking Canada.
How often do you get to visit Greece? Where do you stay?
I have been fortunate to have visited Greece several times in my life although my most recent trip last year was after a 10 year hiatus. When I go, I stay with my yiayia and pappou in our tiny but beautiful village of Drosopigi nestled in the soft, green, rolling mountains surrounding the city of Florina in Northwest Greece. This past trip my cousin and I spent our afternoons walking around and taking photographs with out fancy cameras. I have traveled throughout the country and have much more to explore; I am fascinated and drawn to the smaller cities of Greece like Nauplion and the island capital of Kerkyra.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
If it is one thing I want people to take away with them after interacting with mygreekbookshelf is that the stories of the diaspora Greeks are Greek stories; we are not any less Greek just because we were born and live beyond her borders. We may live hyphenated lives as Greek-Americans, Greek-Canadians, Greek Australians or Greek-Britons but at the end of the day we are, if we choose to be, the bearers of a great legacy that spans not only the annals of history but literally spans the entire globe. Living an ethnically hyphenated life can be challenging at times but like our mythological forefather Odysseus we always end up finding home again in Greece and the many forms she takes for everyone who loves her.
Thank you, Michael! We look forward to following your journey!!
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