The writer whoo seeks to invent a private language idiom, dangling between Greek and English.
Text: Yiannis Kotsifos
Photos: G. Skaragas archive
Incessant (constantly crossing map borders, writing styles and languages) yet subtle (how many Greek authors of his generation can write in English and get published in renowned literary journals such as World Literature Today and Tower Journal) in a mere two decades, Gianni Skaragas has managed to carve two parallel writing paths, one in Greece and one in the United States, having been established in the latter as an English-language author and without a literary agent at that.
From his birthplace of Komotene and then to Thessaloniki for studies (Law and Theater), Skaragas moved to Athens where he wrote scripts for film director Loukia Rikaki and published his first novel “Epiphania” (2002), a corporate thriller that became a television series during Greece’s private TV golden era, along with numerous other screenplays and scripts, followed by another novel in 2004 “A Home to Touch”, all of which make up a blueprint of potential which could have easily been redeemed through the then-almighty star system of Greece. Yet, Skaragas’ gaze was cast elsewhere, away from the hyped lifestyle of the time:
«Towards the end of the 90s, when I was just starting out with writing, Greek fiction was dominated by a sense of cosmopolitanism that was of no interest to publishers abroad. A cogent example of this was the rise and fall of Greek books being translated into French. My course in writing short stories in the English-language was based on exactly the opposite premise: for instance, the heroes in my writings that were published in the World Literature Today, one of the most acclaimed literary publications in the world, have no cosmopolitan allure whatsoever. They maintain their Greek identity, either through a strained sense of origin, or through a troubled inclination for return.»
From that point onwards, Skaragas launched on an expedition of long distances, bridging the edges between literary styles, techniques and languages. Leaving yet another Greek novel behind “The Ambiguous Glance of an Angel “(2007), and having become a Fulbright Fellow, he made his debut in the States: «I was first introduced to the American audience through my theatrical play “Prime Numbers”, in 2009 in New York. That was the year I started getting discovered by the literary journals in the States.»
Between Greek and English, Skaragas is in pursuit of devising a private language, the exact opposite of translation: «You’re not transferring meanings; you’re enmeshed inside the conflicts of common meanings. Fifteen years ago David Plante said to me: ‘Your English is impressive, but forget it all for now until we discover your personal style’.»
Without ever forsaking the Greek production (the year 2015 he published the novel “The Sky in your Dream” and three theatrical plays – some of which are still running in theaters in Athens-), Skaragas consistently expands his international work: «An international career requires international training. It requires endless evaluation committees, attending events, holding meetings with foundations, agents, editors, publishers, and, overall, having a series of attendances, presentations and speeches where no one is interested in your points of view or your public relations; the only thing that matters is your latest work and the reviews.»
He has been living in Switzerland for the last years, interconnecting, among other things, visual arts with writing. His most important collaborations are with the Sulzberg and Landis & Gyr institutes, the Salonpalaver festival, the Shed im Eisenwerk Gallery and the Seismo Verlag publishing house. In Greece, he has released the historic novel “Yesterday’s Leftover Yearning” (Kritiki Publishing House), while the play “The Mistress of Ro” is staged, played by Fotini Baxevani and directed by Katerina Berdeka. Beyond Greece, Skaragas is working on a series of short stories delving into the impact of the global economic crisis over the last decade.