Scholar, educator, public activist Solomea Pavlychko dead at 41

by Taras Koznarsky
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - December 31, the final day of 1999, brought shocking news about the untimely death of Solomea Pavlychko, 41, as a result of an accident in her home. Scholar, translator, editor, and educator, she made enormous contributions to Ukrainian culture, academia and the public sphere. In characterizing Ms. Pavlychko's role in the intellectual life of contemporary Ukraine, the literary scholar Tamara Hundorova remarked, "Ukraine was so fortunate to have Solomea. Her impact was such that we began to think differently. In 10 years' time - and the 1990s were hers - she made a breakthrough in our consciousness."

Born in Lviv in 1958, she was the daughter of poet Dmytro Pavlychko, a prominent figure in Ukraine's movement for independence. She completed her Ph.D. in American literature at the Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University and in 1985 began working at the Institute of Literature of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences as a leading specialist in literary theory. Since 1992 she has served as the head of the editorial board of the publishing house Osnovy in Kyiv.

She will be remembered as a pioneer in Ukraine's nascent women's movement who articulated and promoted feminist ideas in post-Soviet Ukraine and applied these concepts to Ukrainian culture and society. Ms. Pavlychko, both as an intellectual and a public figure, in her academic writings and through interviews and appearances in the media, made a great impact on the Ukrainian public by giving voice to women's issues and by bringing feminism and modernism to the fore of public discussion.

Ms. Pavlychko's literary scholarship is marked by a unique combination of analytical power, critical rigor, intellectual elegance and the lucidity of argument and style. She authored five books and numerous articles. Her fifth book, "The Discourse of Modernism in Ukrainian Literature" (2nd edition Kyiv, 1999) established a benchmark in Ukrainian literary scholarship, provoking a rethinking of the history of Ukrainian literature in the 20th century.

In that book she challenged both established dogmas, as well as the new pseudo-scholarly nomenclature, applied contemporary theoretical standards to a discussion of Ukrainian literature and brought to light underrated writers such as Victor Domontovych and Ihor Kostetsky. In so doing, she managed to establish the topic of modernism in 20th century Ukrainian literature as a fascinating field for future discussion and research.

She died at the peak of her capabilities, soaring with new creative plans and ideas, among them the completion of a book on Ukrainian scholar and activist Ahatanhel Krymsky.

She had a tremendous influence on colleagues, writers, artists, and students, who were inspired by her energy, optimism, vision, courage, decency, work ethic and insistence on high standards. She was determined in her support of new ideas and institutions.

The driving force behind the publishing house Osnovy, she developed a strategy for providing Ukrainian readers with a wide range of publications, particularly Ukrainian translations of the most significant contributions to Western culture and thought, ranging from belles lettres to history, political science, philosophy and economics.

Her own translations from English, especially of the D. H. Lawrence novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover," lifted taboos of what could be expressed with taste and grace in Ukrainian literary language.

She was active also in public life, and her book "Letters from Kiev" (St. Martin Press, New York, 1992) tracked the dramatic political and social changes she witnessed during Ukraine's struggle for independence.

During her frequent appearances in the media, she was known for her wit and dignity in discussing contemporary issues and Ukrainian culture. With her erudition and openness to new ideas, Ms. Pavlychko was a brilliant mediator between Ukraine and the West, often invited to lecture and participate in international conferences.

She published an introduction to the first collection of contemporary Ukrainian literature in English translation, "From Three Worlds" (Zephyr Press, Boston, 1996), and co-edited an anthology of short fiction by contemporary Ukrainian and Canadian Ukrainian writers, "Two Lands, Two Visions" (Coteau Books, 1998).

A dedicated and devoted teacher who encouraged independent thinking in her students, she demanded that they perform to the highest standards. She regularly taught courses in literary theory, Ukrainian literature and American literature at Kyiv State University and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and was invited as a visiting professor to Harvard University and the University of Alberta.

For countless people she was a unique role model and a precious friend. Reflecting on the emotions felt by so many friends and colleagues, Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko said, "If someone could be called noble, it was Solomea - not by virtue of her name or position, but by virtue of her dignity and decency, respect for the individual and incredible hard work - she was truly noble in the heart and spirit."

Among those mourning for her are parents, Dmytro and Bohdana Pavlychko; her daughter, Bohdana, 13; her life partner, Bohdan Krawchenko; and her younger sister Roxolana.

Taras Koznarsky is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Slavic languages and literatures at Harvard University.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, January 9, 2000, No. 2, Vol. LXVIII

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