Saturday, April 13, 2013

Giving Polish Books Away


This Saturday morning, I am packing up Polish books to give them away.

I remember buying these books when I was a grad student, struggling with a chronic illness, making no money, collecting socks on the street and food at food banks.

The books are all about Poland, about folk art in Poland, women in Poland, Jewish poets in Poland – not exactly bestsellers. These books are the kind of hardcover, obscure university press books that cost an arm and a leg.

I would spend as much on one of these books as I would spend on food for two weeks.

I prized these books. I coddled these books. When I had to move from one temporary grad student squat to another, these books were my first and my last thought.

These books were the future. The future for which I was sacrificing everything.

Someday I'd be a PhD. Someday I'd teach classes about my loves in Polish culture. Someday I'd share the contents of these books with my students.

I worked for that moment. I got straight A's, of course, even though my working class, Polish Catholic, immigrant perspectives often irritated my professors. I published in the right peer-reviewed journals. I presented papers. I was invited to speak. I published my dissertation and it won an award.

But someday never came. I teach college, part time. My identity, and my dissertation on Polish matters, is not attractive to any academic employers seeking fulltime employees. I love what I teach. I'm happy and honored to teach creative writing, women in film, Greek mythology, Caribbean literature, African American history, the New England transcendentalists… I'm happy to teach all those and more.


I've never had, and I now must admit I never will have, a chance to teach a class in anything Polish. The institutions for which I teach are not much interested in anything having anything to do with Poland. Why should they be? No one in Polonia has ever made the case to them that study of anything Polish, from Polish American immigrant literature like the poetry of coal miner poet Anton Piotrowski, to the Polish experience of WW II, to what wisdom Polish-Jewish relations has to offer a world that is "hot, flat, and crowded" – no one in Polonia is making the case to the wider world, including academic employers, that this matters. I propose courses, and they go nowhere.

I wrote to a well-placed Polish American academic. I've tried just about everything, I said. I would give my eye teeth to teach what I gave my life to. Polish matters.

The response I received: What do you think I am, an employment agency? Don't bother me.

So, I'm packing up these books I bought when I was a grad student.

I'm sending them to a beautiful human being I met in Poland in 2011. This person is young and hopeful, utterly unconstrained by the "mind-forged manacles" that haunt so much of Polonia. If change comes, if Polonia's story becomes standard in education, as it should be, people like this will make that happen.


  1. Sorry to hear about your situation. I cannot, of course, compare your situation to mine, but I found the following premise useful: Follow your interests in Poland and Polonia regardless of what others do or do not do.

  2. Your honesty in this posting is courageous. While you outline your unsuccessful attempts in the traditional (some might say moribund) academic world to share your insights on Poles, Polonia and Poland...clearly that is not the only venue to share such verities? Your blog is your beachhead in a "Brave New World" that reaches far greater numbers than any academic institution could. Perhaps patience will show another way? Sedes Sapientiae, intercedat pro vobis!

    1. Hello Loyolaw98,

      Well put. the academic world has been a great con job on Slavs.


  3. Danusha, you have sown seeds for a stronger generation.

  4. Full time academic positions are hard to come by, no matter the field. But, I do think there is definite anti-Polish and anti-peasant sentiment here. Good luck with your future.


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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