On Thursday June 8th, 7pm, Helen Klonaris will launch her debut short story collection If I Had the Wings with a reading at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, on West Hill Street, Nassau, Bahamas.
Forthcoming from Peepal Tree Press on June 6th, If I Had the Wings uniquely shines a light on the Greek community of the Bahamas, making connections between Caribbean lives and the figures and narratives drawn from Greek and Afro-Bahamian mythology. Helen Klonaris was recently shortlisted for the region's prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
If I Had the Wings reveals the constraints and dangers of growing up gay in a small Greek-Bahamian community that feels its traditional culture and religious pieties are under threat. The main characters in Helen Klonaris’ lyrical, inventive, and at times transgressive collection of short stories confront this reality as part of their lives. Yet there are also ways in which young women in several of the stories search for roots in that tradition – to find within it alternatives to the dominant influence of the Orthodox Church.
“The church has been deeply wounding to me as someone who does not conform to gender and heterosexual norms,” says Klonaris. “I’m critical of it, and I also have a great love for the church and its central narrative of birth, death, and resurrection. It’s an ancient story, archetypal. But the way it has been interpreted by Christian theology can be troubling, particularly for women and LGBT folks. With so many of us being destroyed spiritually, emotionally, and physically by fear and hatred in our extended communities, I craved a new story, one that didn’t end with any of us being nailed to a cross.”
Klonaris, who started her journey as a social activist at the age of 12, later becoming one of the first LGBT activists in the Bahamas, began writing fiction because she wanted to imagine a better story. “I believed in change, but we always seemed to be re-enacting the same conflicts and oppressions we were fighting against. Stories have a way of taking us deeper into the consciousness of human beings, and of the culture we create. I wanted to know what it takes to change that consciousness, of a single human being and of the communities we’re a part of.”
Klonaris’ stories are rooted in her experiences as a girl and woman growing up within the Greek immigrant community and the larger Bahamian society. Colonialism, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, and sexism are all part of the ‘big story’ her characters live inside and struggle to escape. But even flight requires a wrestling with who we are and who we think we are not. White and Black, Greek and African, male and female, profane and sacred, everyday now and mythic past all encounter and transform each other in this poetic and mythopoeic work.
The launch will be followed by a book signing and refreshments. All are welcome.
Helen Klonaris is a Greek-Bahamian writer, performer and teacher who lives between the Bay Area, California and Nassau, Bahamas.
Her non-fiction and fiction have been published in a number of North American journals including Calyx, So to Speak, Mission at Tenth, and The New Guard; and in Caribbean journals including The Caribbean Writer, Poui, Small Axe Salon, Sargasso, Proud Flesh, Anthurium, Tongues of the Ocean, Yinna, and Lucayos. Her work also appears in numerous anthologies. Most recently, her short story "Cowboy" was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Helen is the co-editor with Amir Rabiyah of the anthology Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices, published by Trans-Genre Press, 2015.
Helen is an energy medicine practitioner at Soul Healing Arts, and the founder of The Gaulin Project, a migratory narrative storytelling program that believes in imagination as a source of power, and stories as a place of exquisite transformation and possibility. She teaches mythology and comparative religion at the Academy of Art University.