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Kseniak, Mykolai / Ксеняк, Миколай

Kseniak's native village of Kamienka in Slovakia, where he was born in 1933, has provided the inspiration for much of his literary work: "My native land is a well that I will draw from my entire life. In my native Kamienka are beautiful mountains, forests, streams, field, cliffs … He who was born in this region, who has breathed its air, collected its native songs and tales, he who has walked this land, herded cows there, ploughed, sown, and mowed it, he can never forget his native land or the people who live there..."

After finishing school in his native village, Kseniak completed his studies at the Russian gymnasium in Presov and the Institute of Russian Language and Literature in Prague. Since 1957, he has lived in Ruzomberok in central Slovakia, teaching elementary school and serving as director of the Ruzomberok gymnasium. He was awarded the title of doctor of pedagogy from Safarik University in Presov in 1982.

As a student, Kseniak began to publish fables in the Ukrainian-language magazine Druzhno vpered and between 1963 and 1990, he published seven books of fables in Ukrainian. Kseniak is best known, however, for his plays and tales about Rusyn tinkers. Before World War II, many Rusyns, including Kseniak's father, took up the trade of tinker in winter to supplement their meager agricultural income. With his stories about the travels and adventures of Rusyn tinkers, Kseniak has created a folk epic, in which he sings the praise of his homeland and the Rusyn people.

In 1994, Kseniak published a collection of poetry in the Kamienka dialect about the life, history, and customs of his native village (O kamiun'skykh maistrakh). In the same year, the Aleksander Dukhnovych Theater produced his play about Rusyn tinkers, in which he celebrates the tinkers'craft. He continued to explore the theme in Bida Rusyniv z domu vyhaniala (Need Drove the Rusyns from Their Home, 2001). In the stories of this book, Kseniak masterfully depicts various realistic characters and allows them to share their experiences and their folk wisdom in their own words. His characters are individuals -- Mykhal is a master of his craft who passes it on to his son, while Adam dislikes the work and travels as a tinker only because his wife threw him out of his home. Not all Rusyn tinkers are idealized masters; some turn out to have two left hands. There is no end to their adventures - one tinker is killed by a landowner for his fur coat, and two are taken for Magyar spies and killed by Czechoslovak soldiers. The characters also tell humorous stories in their own dialect. Kseniak demonstrates that tinkering brought knowledge of the outside world to the Rusyn villages; still, he makes it clear that it was need that drove the Rusyns to the tinkering life.

Bida Rusyniv z domu vyhaniala was the first book to be published by the World Congress of Rusyns. In 2002, Kseniak's book Vybrany baiky (Selected Fables) in Rusyn was the first to be published by the Union of Rusyn Writers of Slovakia. Kseniak continues to write fables and has begun work on Rusyn legends. His dynamic prose and contemporary realism is a worthy model for Rusyn writers.

Elaine Rusinko

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