Artemis Leontis is the C. P. Cavafy Professor of Modern Greek and Comparative Literature and Chair in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan. Her research has participated in the broadening of the disciplinary range of Modern Greek Studies, which now includes visual art, archaeology, architecture, design, the restoration and presentation of heritage sites, media studies, the performing arts, and popular culture in addition to the social sciences.
Cavafy’s multi-media interests are especially apparent in her investigation of the life and work of Eva Palmer Sikelianos (1874-1952). The Bryn Mawr-educated American visionary lived in Greece from 1907 to 1933 and was married to poet Angelos Sikelianos. She worked for a lifetime to animate the lost Greek life suggested by ancient ruins and living practices. Cavafy’s writing of this book took her on a 10-year journey to recover the traces of her life, from the “Eva Sikelianou Papers” in the Benaki Museum Historical Archives to letters and artifacts collected (and sometimes hidden) in unexpected places such as the Center for Asia Minor Studies in Athens.
The resulting book, Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins, follows the difficult journey of the wealthy lesbian expatriate who worked as actor, director, composer, weaver, translator, and activist to make the world more beautiful and free, and whose most extraordinary achievement was her daily, unscripted performance of an art of living after the Greeks. A probing biography, the book draws on overlooked archival sources to connect its subject to more famous artists in the U.S., France, and Greece and to ask: in what ways have dead Greeks been haunting modern life, what challenges are posed to the West by Modern Greece, and can a person sustain a transformative art of living on a daily basis while absorbing the shocks and heartbreaks of perpetual noncomformity? The book is scheduled for publication in March 2019.