Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaite
by Julija Šukys
©2012 University of Nebraska Press
Hard Cover | Size: 9″ x 6″| 217 pages
Julija Šukys carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of the life of Ona Šimaitė, which included thousands of letters and scores of diaries. Šimaitė, a librarian at Vilnius University, used her position to aid and rescue Jews in the Vilna Ghetto. Epistolophilia brings back to life this quiet and unassuming heroine who was a giant of Holocaust history, one of Yad Vashem’s honored Righteous Among the Nations, and yet is so little known.
Šukys draws liberally from thousands of pages of correspondence and numerous diaries to create a portrait of a deeply thoughtful woman trying to make sense of history and her own life by putting it all to paper. Also of Lithuanian descent, Šukys’s own meditations on the power of letters and writing make this a powerful testament to the confluence of history and individual lives and passions.”
— Publicationers Weekly
Julija Šukys (PhD 2001, University of Toronto) is the author of two books, Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė (Nebraska 2012) and Silence is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout (Nebraska, 2007). She has held fellowships with the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City, and has been a fellow at the Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism Program. Her honors include writers’ grants from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts. Epistolophilia has been shortlisted for the 2012 Mavis Gallant Prize in Nonfiction.
In anticipation of Epistolophilia’s Release in March, 2012, Šukys wrote about choosing the subject and title of her book on the SheWrites.com blog:
The title of my book, Epistolophilia, means “a love of letters,” “an affection for letter-writing,” or “a letter-writing sickness,” and it refers to Šimaitė’s life-long dedication to her correspondence. She wrote on average 60 letters per month (therefore between 35,000 and 50,000 letters over her adult life), and not always with joy. The letters weighed on her. She often resented them and blamed the time-consuming correspondence for her inability to complete the memoir that many of her friends and colleagues were after her to write.
But to me her letters were utterly compelling. From the fragments I read in that first archive twelve years ago, I could tell I loved this woman, and I wanted to know more. Eventually, I raised enough money through grants and fellowships to collect the rest of her life-writing corpus, scattered as it was to archives in Israel, America, and other Lithuanian institutions. In the end, I suppose, I developed my own case of epistolophilia.”