Petrakis, Harry Mark 1923–
Petrakis, Harry Mark 1923–
PERSONAL: Born June 5, 1923, in St. Louis, MO; son of Mark E. (an Eastern Orthodox priest) and Stella Petrakis; married Diane Perparos, September 30, 1945; children: Mark, John, Dean. Education: Attended University of Illinois, 1940–41. Politics: "Uneasy Democrat."
ADDRESSES: Home and office—80 East Rd., Dune Acres, Chesterton, IN 46304. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Southern Illinois University Press, 1915 University Press Dr., Carbondale, IL 62901-4323.
CAREER: Has worked as laborer, steelworker, real estate salesman, speech writer, and sales correspondent; free-lance writer and lecturer, 1960–. Teacher at writing workshops, including Indiana University Writer's Conference, 1964–65, 1970, 1974, Illinois Wesleyan University, 1978–79, Ball State University, 1978, 1980, University of Wisconsin—Rhinelander, 1978–80, and University of Rochester, 1979–80; teacher of workshop classes in the novel and short story in Winnetka and Highland Park, IL. McGuffey Visiting Lecturer, Ohio University, winter, 1971; writer in residence, Chicago Public Library, 1976–77, and Chicago Board of Education, 1978–79; Nikos Kazantzakis Professor, San Francisco State University, 1992. Judge, Nelson Algren short story contest, 1987.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN, Writers Guild of America—West.
AWARDS, HONORS: Atlantic "Firsts" Award, and Benjamin Franklin citation, both 1957, both for short stories; awards from Friends of American Writers, Society of Midland Authors, and Friends of Literature, all 1964, all for The Odyssey of Kostas Volakis; National Book Award nominations for fiction, 1965, for Pericles on 31st Street, and 1966, for A Dream of Kings; L.H. D., University of Illinois, 1971, Governor's State University, 1979, Hellenic College, 1984, and Roosevelt University, 1987; Carl Sandburg Award, Friends of the Chicago Public Library, 1983, for Days of Vengeance.
Lion at My Heart, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1959.
Pericles on 31st Street (short stories), Quadrangle Books (Chicago, IL), 1965.
A Dream of Kings, McKay (New York, NY), 1966.
The Waves of Night and Other Stories, McKay (New York, NY), 1969.
In the Land of Morning, McKay (New York, NY), 1973.
The Hour of the Bell, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
A Petrakis Reader (short stories), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
Nick the Greek, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
Days of Vengeance, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.
Collected Stories, Lake View Press (Chicago, IL), 1986.
Ghost of the Sun: A Novel, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Twilight of the Ice, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2003.
The Orchards of Ithaca, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 2004.
The Founder's Touch: The Life of Paul Galvin of Motorola, McGraw (New York, NY), 1965.
Stelmark: A Family Recollection (autobiography), McKay (New York, NY), 1970.
Reflections: A Writer's Life, a Writer's Work, Lake View Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
Tales of the Heart: Dreams and Memories of a Lifetime, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1999.
Also author of television and film adaptations of his short stories, including "Pericles on 31st Street," and "The Judge," 1961–62; author of scripts for film adaptations of A Dream of Kings, 1969, and In the Land of Morning, 1974; adaptor of teleplay for "The Blue Hotel," 1978. Contributor to The Writer's World, edited by Elizabeth Janeway, McGraw (New York, NY), 1969. Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Atlantic, Harper's Bazaar, and the Saturday Evening Post. Contributor of articles and reviews to New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Saturday Review, and Life.
SIDELIGHTS: An author of novels, several short story collections, and memoirs, Harry Mark Petrakis specializes in interpreting the immigrant experience in America. Basing his stories on recollections of people and events in Chicago's Greek community, he combines a classically tragic outlook on life with an unquenchable enthusiasm for what few pleasures the gods offer man in exchange for all his pain and suffering. While Petrakis is frequently classified as an "ethnic" or "provincial" writer and has been compared to Zorba the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, other reviewers have felt that Petrakis's writing is characterized by his ability to use local settings and characters to produce a larger meaning.
Petrakis creates his type of modern Hellenic hero in A Dream of Kings through the character of Leonidas Matsoukas, a Greek-American immigrant intent on returning to his native land, where the healing sun may cure his dying son. Set in the early nineteenth century, Days of Vengeance follows the quest of a young Cretan shepherd Manolis, as he travels to America to avenge the murder of his older brother. Ranging from the immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago to railroad camps in the Far West, the novel is told through the voices of the murderer and a priest, as well as Manolis. Los Angeles Times book editor Art Seidenbaum stated that Days of Vengeance "is what we used to call 'slick fiction' because the narrative is smooth and individuals stay at the surface even if they work in mines."
Leonidas Matsoukas, the protagonist of Ghost of the Sun: A Novel, was once a strong, young, adventurous man. At the beginning of the novel, however, he has endured the emotional pain of his son's death and the physical trauma of five years of torture in a Greek prison. When he returns to his old neighborhood in Chicago, he finds it altered beyond recognition. His wife, thinking him dead, has remarried. As he struggles to come to terms with his drastically altered personal landscape, he discovers that the man who had tortured him in Greece is now living in Chicago. To the exclusion of all else, he becomes obsessed with the desire to extract revenge, no matter the additional cost to him. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel a "moving, darkly lyrical, even noble story" that gradually increases in "dramatic intensity to a neat double-surprise ending."
Petrakis has also written autobiographical works, including Stelmark: A Family Recollection and, more recently, Tales of the Heart: Dreams and Memories of a Lifetime. The latter is the continuing life story of the author and concentrates on the people and events that propelled him toward becoming a writer. Divided into three parts, the book looks at the defining influence of family, community, and the world. Petrakis recounts stories of his life as a Greek-American living and growing up in Chicago. Morris Hounion, writing in Library Journal, called the book at "touching, warmhearted, and life-enhancing collection of essays," while Booklist contributor Alice Joyce believed the book would appeal to "those who cherish the work of an exceptional man of letters."
In Twilight of the Ice Petrakis returns to fiction, this time to the long-lost days of freight transportation in 1950s Chicago. Mike Zervakis works in the railroad yards, carefully and artfully packing railroad cars with ice so that produce and perishable goods can be transported successfully. To him, the dangerous job of icing cars is practically an art form, but with the advent of refrigeration, his is a dying vocation. However, he has trouble finding a willing disciple to pass his knowledge to, since most of the younger men he works with do not take the job as seriously as he does. Worse, Mike has trouble with Earl, a supervisor who is an angry man prone to mean-spiritedness. Zervakis believes he has finally found the perfect protegé in SK, but long-hidden racial tensions surface when he learns that SK is Turkish. Petrakis "creates many strong characters while deftly exploring multiple themes" throughout the novel, including addiction, ethnic differences, and generational conflict, noted Library Journal reviewer Josh Cohen. With his novel, Petrakis builds "brick-solid prose out of realistic and humble details," Donna Seaman further observed in Booklist.
It is 1999, and Greek-American restaurateur Orestes Panos, the main character of The Orchards of Ithaca, has just turned fifty; he pauses to take stock of his life. His upscale restaurant is thriving and is regularly visited by a cadre of loyal customers and friends. Orestes's friend, Father Anton, is under fire and falsely accused of pedophilia because he missed giving a parishioner last rites because he stopped to celebrate Orestes's birthday. His son, however, is chafing at a wedding he was all but forced into, and is nearly ready to leave his wife, while his daughter is addicted to shopping and is spending his money as fast as he can make it. Happily married to Dessie for twenty-three years, Orestes still struggles with his own home life and is feeling strained after his despicable mother-in-law, Stavroula, moves in. When Orestes meets the attractive younger woman Sarah Fleming at the Chicago Public Library, his initial interest in her quickly evolves into an obsession as the entire world moves toward the new millennium. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the novel a "pleasant digression through the back streets, though served up with a bit more nostalgia than may be good for you." Reviewer Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, considered it "candid and penetrating in its psychology and spiritual inquiry," and a story that is "vital and moving."
Petrakis told CA: "As a child of eleven I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and consigned to bed for what became a two year span. This was before the days of television and the better radio programs did not begin until evening. To pass the time I became a voracious reader, starting with pulp magazines and progressing to the classics. Sir Walter Scott, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorn. My imagination was also stimulated because I had to compensate for my restricted existence. I was confined to a single sun-parlor room but my thoughts and fantasies were boundless. One Christmas I was given a train as a gift and with my room darkened and the small light on the engine illuminating the track, I rode that train on journeys around the world.
"Those early readings were seminal influences, especially when I had moved on to works by the great Jewish and Russian writers. A major influence was Jack London, particularly his Martin Eden, which had a great impact on my development. In my maturity I discovered the works of the magnificent modern Greek writers, the poets Gorgios Seferis and Odysseus Elytis, Nikos Kazantzakis and Pandelis Prevelakis.
"I once started my writing day early in the morning and wrote until I wore down. When I was in my thirties and forties I could write for six or seven hours at a stretch. Now in my eighties, three concentrated hours seem sufficient to wear me out. But the process of revision remains unchanged, with an average of ten drafts per finished page. This process was much more laborious when I worked on an electric typewriter, having to pull out and replace pages. For the last ten years I have been using a computer (with trepidation) and the labor of revision has been greatly lightened.
"After lectures and readings I am often asked which book is my favorite. A writer can no more answer that question than a parent can when asked which is a favorite child. Each one has a distinctive quality, each one belings to a certain period in my life. Isaac Bashevis Singer put it succinctly: 'Each writer writes only one book, the book of his life. The individual books are pages in that larger book.'
"The most gratifying parts of the writing process come during those interludes when one is deep in the life of the work. At a certain point a seamless confluence of all the elements come together and the writing flows and the writer feels indomitable. A poet has written that these moments are like 'taking God's dictation.' It is for such moments and those rewarding instances when I complete a sentence or a paragraph that says clearly and eloquently what I wish to say that I would not trade my craft for any other profession, regardless of its rewards."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 3, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1975.
Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Petrakis, Harry Mark, Stelmark: A Family Recollection, McKay (New York, NY), 1970.
Petrakis, Harry Mark, Reflections: A Writer's Life, a Writer's Work, Lake View Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
Petrakis, Harry Mark, Tales of the Heart: Dreams and Memories of a Lifetime, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1999.
Booklist, June 1, 1999, Alice Joyce, review of Tales of the Heart: Dreams and Memories of a Lifetime, p. 1772; May 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Twilight of the Ice, p. 1645; August, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Orchards of Ithaca, p. 1901.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of The Orchards of Ithaca, p. 601.
Library Journal, May 15, 1999, Morris Hounion, review of Tales of the Heart, p. 97; June 1, 2003, Josh Cohen, review of Twilight of the Ice, p. 168; August, 2004, Joshua Cohen, review of The Orchards of Ithaca, p. 69.
Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1983, Art Seidenbaum, review of Days of Vengeance, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Ghost of the Sun: A Novel, p. 50.