Helen Papanikolas

Helen Papanikolas was the author of several books of fiction and non-fiction, most recently the novel The Time of the Little Black Bird, winner of the Utah Book Award for Fiction.

Listed in: Fiction · American Literature · History · American History · Western Americana · Literary Studies

An Amulet of Greek Earth · Generations of Immigrant Folk Culture
By Helen Papanikolas

The boys and men who left their Greek valley and mountain villages in the early 1900s for America came with amulets their mothers had made for them. Some were miniature sacks attached to a necklace; more often they were merely a square of fabric enclosing the values of their lives: a piece of a holy book or a sliver of the True Cross representing their belief in Greek Orthodoxy; a thyme leaf denoting their wild terrain; a blue bead to ward off the Evil Eye; and a pinch of Greek earth.

“Writers like Papanikolas should live a thousand years.”

Journal of the Int. Greek Folklore Society

The title of Helen Papanikolas’ second collection of short stories, The Apple Falls from the Apple Tree, is taken from an old Greek proverb and speaks of the new generation’s struggle with the vestiges of Greek customs. Gone are the raw, overt emotions of the pioneers, their bold prejudices, and, especially, the haunting black fatalism of funerals. Yet their children retain much of their parents’ culture.

“Writers like Papanikolas should live a thousand years.”

Journal of the International Greek Folklore Society

In 1906 a young, semiliterate Greek arrived in America with a fewdollars in his pocket and his people's legacy of proverbs, superstitions, and cultural traits to guide him through the dangers and opportunities of a new world. The Time of the Little Black Bird begins with the story of this young man and his plan to build a future for his family as it makes its way in America.

"The Time of the Little Black Bird's breadth and depth, its over-arching compassion, is nurtured by a mature and understated wisdom. Papanikolas' fine skills as a writer seldom give way to shortcuts, never to triteness or sentimentality. The novel nurtures its own light, its own forward movement, its own life. Nothing is imposed. Utah is lucky to have Papanikolas, and should be grateful for the rich and significant history her work represents."

Utah Book Awards

Small Bird, Tell Me · Stories of Greek Immigrants
By Helen Papanikolas

Helen Papanikolas has been honored frequently for her work in ethnic and labor history. Among her many publications are Toil and Rage in a New Land: The Greek Immigrants in Utah, Peoples of Utah (ed.), and her parents' own story of migration, Emily-George. With Small Bird, Tell Me, she joins a long and ancient tradition of Greek story-tellers whose art informs and enriches our lives.

“In their ethnicity, their Greekness, they transcend culture, obliterate boundaries with specificity and power. Shocking in their simplicity and unpretentiousness, they speak to us directly, like the diary of a lost relative.”

The Salt Lake Tribune