Blog 87 30/09/2019 A Literary World: An interview with Maria A. Karamitsos
A Literary World
An interview with Maria A. Karamitsos
My guest today is someone who will be familiar to most of my Greek readers. Maria Karamitsos is the founder and editor of WindyCity Greek. She has been a great supporter of the Greek community and in particular many authors who have written about Greece, myself incuded. So I thought it was about time I reversed the situation and interviewed Maria myself. Producing such a worldwide on-line magazine is a great feat, so let’s find out more about what drives this dynamic woman.
Welcome to A Literary World, Maria. It’s an honour to have you with us. Where are you from and what is your background?
I was born and raised in Chicago. My father was born in a tiny mountaintop village about 30 minutes from Ancient Olympia in Ilias, Greece. My mother was born in Chicago to parents from Arcadia, Greece.
2. When did you decide to launch WindyCity Greek magazine and why?
I’ve worked in Greek media since 2002. From 2005-2015, I was the Associate Editor of The Greek Star newspaper. It folded in early 2015. At that point, I wasn’t sure what was next, but I thought I’d get back to my novel, which for various reasons, had been shelved for a while. But everything I saw in the media about Greece and Greek people was negative. I knew Greeks were doing amazing things – I’d spent my media career telling these stories – but the world was seeing all the negative. I felt like people had a skewed impression about what it means to be a person of Greek descent, and what we’re all about. Most publications were focusing on celebrity news and scandals. I got fired up and decided to show the world what Greeks are made of. WindyCity Greek launched in September 2015.
3. How has it evolved since you founded it?
Initially, we published stories only on the site. This year, we went to a quarterly format. When we started, we were the only publication that was dedicated to these positive stories. We started a trend, because now there are many. That is awesome! We have readers all over the world, which blows me away.
4. What is it that you enjoy the most about the magazine?
I love sharing stories of Greeks doing amazing things. People need to know that Greeks are innovating, creating, and making things happen.
5. I know you are currently working on your own novel. Can you tell us a little about it?
I’ve been working on it for 7 years now – work and life always seem to get in the way. It’s fiction, but some real-life events take place in it. The book opens in the late 1950s about a young woman, the daughter of Greek immigrants in Chicago. Just as she believes her life is set, a series of events rock the family. Amidst the chaos, the mayor of Chicago has decided to level Chicago’s original Greektown, known as The Delta (the neighborhood was levelled in the early 1960s). The events send the family on a path they never anticipated. A story spanning generations and four decades, FINDING ELEFTHERIA reminds us that eleftheria – the Greek word for freedom – whether from the past, from oppression, hurt, or our own imposed isolation – can be elusive. Things will happen in our lives, but ultimately, we have the power to transcend them and enjoy life or we can allow them to annihilate us.
6. How do you balance a hectic professional life with family life?
It’s difficult. I get up very early in the morning to work, so I can wrap up by the time my kids get home. They have a busy schedule! Then I shift to homework, activities, dinner, etc. Running a magazine basically by myself has been tough on the family. I try to engage them and get them involved as much as possible. My husband and my daughters have reviewed books for the magazine, and I bounce ideas off them.
7. Which are your favourite Greek books?
There’s not enough space here! ? My favorite authors are Harry Mark Petrakis and Nicholas Gage. One of fave books of all time is Nikos Kazantzakis’ AT THE PALACES OF KNOSSOS. I loved Gage’s ELENI, and pretty much anything Petrakis writes. I’ve loved all of Jeffrey Siger’s mystery novels set in Greece. How much time do you have? LOL How I wish I could just spend my days reading. I always say, ‘So many books, so little time!” We’ve run out of space in our bookcases. We’re trying to figure out where to add another. Also, I’ve had the pleasure to interview many authors and review their books. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.
8. Favourite Greek films?
Goodness! I don’t know where to start here either. “I THIA AP’TO SIKAGO” (The Aunt from Chicago) is a fun one. Of course, I have a soft spot for “ZORBA THE GREEK”. “POLITIKI KOUZINA” is one I won’t forget. I love old Greek films, starring Veggos, Vougiouklaki, Xanthopoulos, etc. – all the classics. We watch them on satellite. Since they don’t often start on time, we miss the opening credits and don’t know the names of the films. It’s so cool to see what Greece looked like decades ago. I do admit that over the years I’ve been hooked on one or two Greek soap operas. ?
9. Favourite Greek music?
So many! We love going to Greek concerts! Here are some singers that I listen to over and over: Glykeria, George Dalaras, Haris Alexiou, Anna Vissi, Elli Kokkinou, Despina Vandi, Antonis Remos, Yannis Ploutarhos, Peggy Zina, Kaiti Garbi – so many others. Is the dance floor open yet?
10. I know you like to cook. Which are your favourite Greek recipes?
I make all the typical dishes. I like to change it up sometimes and look at other recipes and experiment. A staple at our house is Dolmades — my grandmother’s recipe. She only made it with meat filling and avgolemono sauce, but I also make it meatless, from a recipe I found online years ago. I love to bake, and for every holiday, just as when I was growing up, I make Koulouria and Kourambiedes – both from my grandmother’s recipes. I’m the only one that makes them anymore. When their aroma fills the house, I’m immediately transported to my yiayia’s kitchen. I miss her so much.
11. Is there a special place in Greece that, given the opportunity, you would love to escape to?
I’m torn… I’ve always said that our village is my happy place. I always stay at my dad’s sister’s house, and her home is so filled with love and warmth. I love to sit on her terrace and gaze at the mountainside. It just makes all seem right in the world. The village is Kallithea, Ilias.
I’m enamored with Chania, Crete. I’ve been there three times, and each time I love it even more. This year as we left, I sobbed thinking that we might not return for a while; my husband will likely want to explore a new place. He asked me why I loved it so much. There are so many reasons. But on that last day, as we walked to the Venetian Harbor for the last time, I felt like roots were growing out of my feet. I’m not Cretan, but this place has enchanted me so. I do tell my family that if I’m ever missing, that’s a good place to look. ?
12. What’s next for you?
WindyCity Greek will cease publication this year. I realized I was spending most of my time on business and operational tasks, which left little time for writing. At the end of the day, I’m a writer, and that’s where I want to focus my energies. I have so many stories to tell! I’m eager to finish editing my novel and to shop it. I have other stories and ideas waiting in the wings. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited for the possibilities. On to a new chapter!
Thank you so much for allowing us a glimpse into your world, Maria. We share similar tastes. I can read Kazantzakis over and over again. And I loved Eleni. I am also a great fan of Haris Alexiou and have played her music ever since I was in Greece in the seventies. I particularly like the fact that the greats of Greek music never go out of fashion and they continue to command respect among the Greek population. On behalf of my readers, I wish you continued success and look forward to reading FINDING ELEFTHERIA.