George Theotokas Joins the “30s Generation” at the Gennadius Library Archives
July 21, 2016
And rightly so! How could the papers of the man who penned the manifesto of the "30s Generation" (and also credited by many with coining the term) not be at the Archives of the Gennadius Library, together with the papers of George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis, Stratis Myrivilis, Angelos Terzakis, and Elias Venezis?
In 1929, at the age of 24, YorgosTheotokas (1905-1966) wrote and addressed to his peers a daring and provocative essay about the aspirations of his generation, advocating both individualism and pluralism, exposure to international literary currents, and a break from the provincialism and isolation of the previous century. Theotokas would go on to establish himself as one of the leading novelists, playwrights, and essayists of his generation. One of his novels, Leonis (Λεωνής, 1940), the coming of age and adventures of a boy growing up in Constantinople before 1922, was translated into eight languages including English and Japanese. Theotokas like other members of the “30s Generation,” was born in Ottoman Turkey and was forced to immigrate to Greece after the destruction of Smyrna in 1922. His other novel, Ασθενείς και Οδοιπόροι (Of Sick Persons and Travellers, 1950 and 1964) was based on the tragic life of actress Eleni Papadaki and was made into a successful TV series several years ago by ERT. According to Vassilis Lambropoulos, C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek at the University of Michigan, Theotokas was the most pivotal figure of that generation. “He was the person whom everybody knew, liked trusted, consulted, collaborated with."
In 1952, Theotokas travelled to America, one of the first Greek intellectuals to visit the United States under the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act. Upon his return, he published his impressions in a book titled Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική. The book was re-issued in 2009, and the book launch took place at Cotsen Hall as an event co-organized by the Gennadius Library and the Fulbright Foundation. It was at the dinner afterwards that the nephew of Theotokas, Nikos Alivizatos, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Athens, first discussed with us (GL Director Maria Georgopoulou and myself) the possibility of donating Theotokas’s papers to the Gennadius Library. Soon after, we were invited to meet his mother and sister of Theotokas, Lily Alivizatou, who has curated the archive for the past forty years. "Κυρία Λιλή," as she is known to family and friends, not only has she been responsible for processing and cataloguing the Theotokas papers since the author's death in 1966, but also for making the collection available to anyone who conducted research on the 30s Generation and the history of Greece.
In 2015 Mrs. Alivizatou, who is 103 years old, decided that it was time to part with the papers of her brother, and the family expressed the strong desire to donate them to the Gennadius Library, where the papers of other members of the “30s Generation” are housed. It was the last major archive from that generation that had not been given to a repository, and its acquisition would add to the prestige and visibility of the Gennadius Library. The deed of gift between the Alivizatos family and the ASCSA was signed in early 2016 and the transfer took place on July 2nd. The day before, my colleagues Leda Costaki and Alexis Malliaris had packed up the archive in 25 boxes in the presence of "κυρία Λιλή." The collection will be re-housed in archival boxes and is expected to be available for research by January 2017.