Member of the Month: Olena Jennings

October 14, 2023

Hometown: New York City

Current Position: Independent writer and translator

Professional Interests: poetry, fiction, translation

Olena Jennings is a writer and translator, the author of the poetry collections The Age of Secrets (Lost Horse Press) and Songs from an Apartment (Underground Books). Her novel Temporary Shelter was published in 2021 (Cervena Barva Press). Her translation of Vasyl Makhno’s poetry collection Paper Bridge was released from Plamen Press. Olena Jennings is the founder and curator of the Poets of Queens Reading Series. She received her M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University and her M.A. from the University of Alberta.

Why did you decide to join the Shevchenko Scientific Society?

I had been attending events at the Shevchenko Scientific Society for some time and even participated in the literary bazaar that Vasyl Makhno hosts. I realized that the Society was becoming a significant part of my life. I wanted to become a member.

What do you value about membership in the Society?

The opportunity to meet and collaborate with colleagues who have dedicated themselves to Ukrainian studies is invaluable. The recent event to celebrate the anthology In the Hour of War: Poetry from Ukraine edited by Carolyn Forche and Ilya Kaminsky was especially valuable. I read alongside poets whom I have long admired such as Carolyn Forche, Marie Howe, and Patricia Smith. This revealed the wide-reaching scope of the Society to include non-Ukrainians and the enthusiasm that non-Ukrainians have for the Society’s events.

How did your interest in Ukrainian culture and society influence your career path?

My writing is influenced and inspired by Ukrainian culture. Ukraine is prominent in my latest novel-in-progress and in my poetry. Following my participation in Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute, I became interested in translation. Translation, especially of poetry, has become an important part of my artistic and literary practice.

What is your current project?

My co-translation with Yuliya Musakovska of her collection The God of Freedom will be released in 2024 from Arrowsmith Press. I have also been working on some translations of Anna Malihon’s poetry. Personally, I am working on a series of poems about language. These include play on Ukrainian language within English and the memories associated with languages, especially Ukrainian. These poems are paired with textile art pieces that I am creating. I am also continuing to write a novel while my previous novel Shut Mouth about the friendship between two girls, one who helps the other understand her Ukrainian culture, is out with an agent.

What career advice would you give for new members of the Shevchenko Scientific Society?

Do what you love and enrich that love through collaboration with like-minded people.