03 Jan 2023: Literary Year of Alki Zei
It’s a great pleasure and honour to announce that the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports has designated 2023 “Year of Alki Zei”, to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth.
In the words of the Minister, Mrs Lina Mendoni:
“A beloved writer, prolific, with multiple translated works and awards, a significant figure of the Greek letters, children’s and YA literature in Greece and abroad, Alki Zei stayed active until her final days, interacting with her readers and contributing to public discourse. Her body of work is closely tied to History. With her personal experience as a starting point, she weaves the plot of her works in parallel to historical events. A clear-cut way of writing, linguistic integrity, a critical stance towards persons and situations, acute humor and a penetrating view of life, these are the dominant characteristics of Alki Zei’s works. To name a few, Achille’s fiancée, Wildcat under glass and Petros’ war are among the timeless best sellers of contemporary Greek literature, and they remain popular to teenagers and adults alike.”
Deputy Minister Mr. Nicholas Giatromanolakis added the following:
“The Alki Zei phenomenon means literature for children and teenagers that is passionately read by adults as well; it means literary characters that have influenced many generations of readers, a depiction of history with a high literary value, numerous awards and translations to dozens of foreign languages, it means books that exist in almost every Greek home. This is the phenomenon that we will celebrate and pay tribute to in 2023.”
Alki Zei had remarked on the connection of her works to History:
“From childhood until now -let’s not count exactly how many years that is, that would scare even myself- I have lived through a world war, two civil wars, two dictatorships and two emigrations. I didn’t live through them as an observer, I actively took part in each one, so my work couldn’t have been untouched by these events that shook our country even if I wanted to. Unwittingly, my own life was woven into History and I became a part of it. My work therefore is full of History whether I want it or not… If I managed to make children to at least listen to History, only time can tell.”
Alki Zei started writing very young. In high school she wrote some pieces for the puppet theatre and one of the characters she created later became one of the main heroes of the Athens Puppet Theatre “Barba Mytoussis”. Her first novel was “Wildcat under glass” (1963), an almost autobiographical work, inspired by her childhood in Samos. After a series of YA novels, she published her first adult novel, “Achilles’ fiancée” in 1987. In 2013 she published her narrative “With a Faber no 2 pencil” and “Grandma, how much longer will you live?” in 2017. Her last YA novel, “A child from nowhere”, was published a short few months before her passing.
“Wildcat under glass”, her first novel, has been a milestone for Greek children’s literature. Sixty years after its first publication, it is still considered a classic book of Greek and international children’s literature, with constant reprints and numerous awards and translations into foreign languages. Alki Zei was an ambassador of modern Greek literature abroad, since her body of work has been so widely translated. She herself had also translated books for children from French, Italian and Russian into Greek.
She was honoured with the Academy of Athens Award for her body of work and she was declared an Honorary Doctorate by universities in Greece and Cyprus. She received the Golden Cross of the Order of Honour by the Hellenic Republic and the title of Commander of the Order of Arts & Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.
Actions that the Ministry is scheduling to celebrate the Year of Alki Zei include the publication of a dedicated book, a big exhibition at the Benaki Museum in February, as well as a series of educational programs and events in Greece and abroad. Alki Zei will also be honoured during the Bologna International Book Fair (March 6-9), where Greece is participating as Market of Honour.