Tomas Venclova

Garbės daktaras / Honorary Doctor (Suteiktas vardas 2010-02-24)

Prof. Tomas Venclova is a prominent poet, intellectual, publicist, literature researcher, professor of Yale University, famous dissident of the Soviet times.

His poetry is included into the gold fund of Lithuanian poetry of the 20th and the 21st century and abundant translations to various foreign languages confirms the international recognition of the poet.  He was awarded with VMU Honorary Doctor’s regalia in 2010.

Tomas Venclova was born on 11 September 1937, in Klaipėda. After Lithuanian studies in Vilnius University, he worked in the Faculty of History. While still very young, Tomas Venclova wrote science fiction books Raketos, planetos ir mes and Golemas, arba dirbtinis žmogus.

In the spring of 1975, Tomas Venclova wrote An Open Letter  to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which said: “Communist ideology is distant to me, and, in my opinion, it is wrong to a large extent. Its absolute rein brought many hardships on our country. Informational barriers and repressions of those who think otherwise pushes the society to stagnation and our country to backwardness. It can be fatal not only to the culture.” In 1975, he joined Lithuanian Helsinki Group.

In 1977, he went to the USA. For “the actions incompatible with the name of a USSR citizen”, he was denied citizenship on the same year. After receiving political asylum in the United States, he worked in universities. In 1985, he defended his doctorate in philosophy in Yale University. A collection of his poems 98 eilėraščiai (1977) was published in the west; it consists of poems published earlier in Kalbos ženklas and some of the poems unpublished before. For this collection, Tomas Venclova received a Vincas Krėvė Literary Prize in 1978. A collection of his translated poems Balsai was published in 1978. Later, his poems and translations were published in the periodicals. Joseph Brodsky helped him greatly in exile. The poets were connected by resistance to the totalitarian regime, the notion of poetry and translations. The third member of the company was VMU honorary doctor Czeslaw Milosz.

Venclova is an internationally acknowledged poet who earned wide recognition. He is an exceptional Lithuanian poet living in exile, whose works are abundantly translated by foreigners into their own languages. The poems of Tomas Venclova are translated into English (translator David McDuff), Russian (Joseph Brodsky), Polish (Czeslaw Milosz, Stanilaw Baranczak, Wiktor Woroszylski), Hungarian (Dezso Tandori), etc. In 1980, Prof. Venclova participated in the Poetry International festival in Rotterdam, where his works were translated into several languages, including Arabian and Japanese.

Tomas Venclova is not only a famous poet. He is also an essayist, who published two books in the west, namely Lietuva pasaulyje (1981) and Tekstai apie tekstus (1985). Not all articles in these books are essays:  they also contain scientific papers and journalistic articles. In 1998, a collection of poems Reginys iš alėjos was published in Vilnius; in 2000, his book of interviews Manau, kad… was published as well.  Venclova translated the works by Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Joseph Brodsky, T. S. Eliot, Jean Genet, Osip Mandelstam, Dylan Thomas and Alfred Jarry.

At the moment, he lives and works in New Haven (USA), yet he still manages to participate in the Lithuanian life as well. His moral engagement and sensitive poetic hearing is reflected in publications on Lithuanian national minorities, cities and urban identity as well as other relevant issues of the contemporary lifestyle. Prof. Venclova received the Person of Tolerance of the Year Award in Lithuania in 2010 for his active civil position. This prominent fellow countryman is related to VMU by its belonging to the Restoration Senate, visits to the university and lectures that he delivered here.

Venclova is awarded with Vilenica International Literary Prize (Slovenia), Lithuanian National Prize, Baltic Star in St. Petersburg, New Culture of New Europe sign in Poland, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas and the Cross of Commander, St. Christopher’s statue and Jotvingiai Prize. Professor was honoured by the title of the honorary doctor in Catholic University of Lublin, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń; he is also the international member of Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences.