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[Armenian Life] Q&A: Armenian-American Writer Nancy Agabian.

September 27, 2010

By Hasmik Manukyan

Armenian-American Nancy Agabian continually finds herself back in her Motherland. Since participating in a conference on feminism in 2005, the New York writer has returned to Armenia many times to share her work. As a Fulbright scholar, she taught at Yerevan State University in 2006 and 2007 and led writing workshops at the Women’s Resource Center this summer.

Nancy is the author of the books Princess Freak, a collection of autobiographical poems and performance texts, and Me as Her Again, a memoir about the influence of her Armenian family and history. Her essays and poems have been published in Ararat, Women Studies Quarterly, Birthmark and Deviation. She is also one of the authors of (An)daratsutian Mej (In the [Un]Space), an experimental book in English, French and Armenian. Currently, Nancy is working on a nonfiction novel on the influences of nationalism, corruption and family on personal freedom in post-Soviet Armenia. 

Nancy Agabian

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Credit: Hasmik Manukyan

I participated in Nancy’s physical translation workshop this summer and I recently asked her about her work and about the influence Armenia has had on her.

What did Armenia give to you? How has it changed your individuality, personal life and your identity as an Armenian-American woman and as a writer?

Nancy: I think Armenia made me value togetherness and relationships more, with friends, with family, with a partner. I really miss that part of the culture. In New York especially, there’s a very striking cultural contrast because people here are so driven by their work, that friendship is put on the back burner. I also think Armenia strengthened a sense of being a part of something larger, outside of my own concerns about individual identity. 

Talk to me about your views about Armenian-American writers.

Nancy: I just did a reading with two Armenian women writers in Rochester, New York; we all had themes of loss and recovery and celebration of identity. I think many Diasporan Armenian writers have faced a huge artistic conundrum: dealing with genocide. It’s a challenge because it requires representing something unrepresentable, unimaginable. But so many have passed through that challenge in so many different ways, that I think we’ve gotten to a new place; through reading, writing and discussing this work, there have been opportunities for healing. I think this has contributed to the unprecedented levels of dialogue we are seeing now between Turkish and Armenian intellectuals, and Turks and Armenians in general.

Nancy Agabian at
Summer 2010 Art Intervention
in Yerevan

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Credit: Hasmik Manukyan

What future do you see for Armenia? How do you imagine it and what are your expectations?

Nancy: That’s so hard. I don’t feel like I’m in a good position to say what I imagine or expect for Armenia, since I don’t live there. But from what Armenians have told me, I wish for it to be a place where young people feel they have more of a future. I have seen changes in the years that I have visited, so I do have hope, knowing that the positive change has only come because of the hard work of the people who live there. 

My dream is that the borders will open so that there will be peace among the people in the region. I think much of what allows corruption to continue is an underlying fear of the future; why not benefit from corruption, if you don’t have a future anyway? That fear stems not just from the economic hardship, but from the sort of unstable place Armenia assumes between Turkey and Azerbaijan. The situation is getting better, but the best situation would be if our enemies turned into friends. 

To learn more about Nancy Agabian, visit her website http://nancyagabian.com/  

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