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Eleni Gage: “I Want To Always Live In The Place I’m Writing About!”

New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is author Eleni Gage.

The Greek-American writer, whose grandmother is the subject of her father's award winning book, Eleni, has penned three books: North of Ithaka, Other Waters, and The Ladies of Managua.  

Gage's articles have been featured in Travel+Leisure, The New York Times, Parade, and Town&Country Travel, among others. Gage currently serves as the Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.

In our interview below, the acclaimed author reveals why she continued to document her family's history, the inspiration behind her latest novel, current hopes for Greece, and more. To learn more about Eleni Gage, visit her blog at: www.theliminalstage.com.  

Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your Greek-American background?

Eleni Gage: My father is Greek, from a small mountain village on the Albanian border in Epiros called Lia. My mother is American, from Minnesota. I was born in New York but we moved to Athens just before I turned three, and moved back to the US, to Massachusetts, when I was seven, in the middle of second grade. I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has a large Greek community, and when I left for college I majored in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard, specializing in Modern Greece.

I think it's because my mother wasn't Greek that I noticed how rich Greek folklore is instead of taking it for granted as the norm. When my aunts were spitting to avoid the Evil Eye or censing the house on New Year's Day, she always noted that those were rituals, which intrigued me and made me want to learn more about the culture I was immersed in; I wanted to know the reasons behind the rituals, and I still do! (In fact, I think that insider/outside perspective is very useful for a writer.)

I've visited Greece at least once a year ever since I was 14, except for the 2011, when I gave birth to our daughter in August and was too pregnant to travel for much of the year.

Maria Athens: Was it a natural decision to leave your NYC life to move to Greece and write North of Ithaka?

Eleni Gage: It was a big decision logistically, because it meant quitting my job as a writer at InStyle, subletting my apartment and all of those practical things. But it felt very natural in that I've been going back and forth between Greece and the US since I was a child. I wanted to live there again and make it part of my everyday life instead of just a vacation.

Maria Athens: What prompted you to follow in your father's footsteps and document your family's history?

Eleni Gage: We always visited our village on summer vacations for a few days before continuing on to the beach, but we never spent more than a few days at a time there. I knew it had such a tragic history, as my grandmother was killed there during the Greek Civil War, after having been held prisoner in her own home. And it wasn't just our family; all of the children were gathered up and taken to live behind the Iron Curtain.

There was a lot of sadness and loss in the village but my father still loved it and he and my aunts often talked about their life there. I wanted to get to know the place and live there so that it wouldn't remain a sorrowful mystery to me; I wanted to reclaim some of the happy memories.

Maria Athens: What was the inspiration behind your latest novel, The Ladies of Managua?

Eleni Gage: My husband, Emilio, was born in Nicaragua, and his grandmother went to convent school in New Orleans in the 1940s and 50s and had a forbidden romance there, as does one of the characters in the book.

When I heard her story, and realized that it was her generation who were the parents of the men and women who fought in the revolution, and the war of the 1980s, I was amazed to think about how much social change a woman her age has seen.

I wanted to explore the conflict between the generations, the effects of the political climate on these women's personal lives, and also the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters (and even granddaughters!) in general.

Maria Athens: Did you always want to be a writer?

Eleni Gage: No; when I was younger I wanted to be a teacher. I did teach expository writing at Columbia for two years and loved it and I'd really like to teach creative writing someday.

Maria Athens: What are you most proud of?

Eleni Gage: I'm proud of my children of course. This year our son, Nicolas, was born one month before my third book, The Ladies of Managua was released, so it was a big year both personally and professionally. But I also think of our wedding as a great personal triumph.

Emilio and I got married on the island of Corfu in two folklore-filled ceremonies (one Catholic, one Orthodox). I planned it in four months (with the help of my amazing cousins who live on the island), over 75 people came from the US and Nicaragua (and another 75 from Greece), and it was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had.

Maria Athens: Where do you currently reside and where do you consider home?

Eleni Gage: We live in Manhattan, six blocks from the Greek Orthodox cathedral, which is also where my daughter goes to school. Where I consider home is a tougher question: New York, Massachusetts and Greece are all contenders. Even Miami, where we lived when we were first married and where my daughter was born, and Granada, Nicaragua, where we lived when she was a toddler, tug at my heart. I feel lucky to have so many places and people to love, but wherever I go I'm missing somebody or someplace. Now I'd say home is wherever my family is..

Maria Athens: How large of a role does your ethnicity play in your daily life and identity?

Eleni Gage: That's the question I explore in all my books: how much do culture and family shape us, and how much of our destiny is within our own control? I couldn't begin to separate my ethnicity from my identity; it's a huge part of who I am, as powerful as my gender or my role as a parent.

Maria Athens: What are your hopes for Greece?

Eleni Gage: Joy, as well as stability and prosperity. I want the country to protect its natural and cultural beauty, and the people who live there and visit to respect it and try to add to the magic of the place. Leonard Cohen wrote a poem while living on Hydra that starts, "Greece is a good place to look at the moon, isn't it?" The poem is called Days of Kindness and I think Greece is due a few of those.

Maria Athens: What's next for Eleni Gage?

Eleni Gage: I'm itching to write a novel set in Greece, historical fiction or maybe even a mystery. But with a new baby and a full time job in New York, I'm not sure how long that will take! I fear that living in Nicaragua while writing The Ladies of Managua spoiled me; now I want to always live in the place I'm writing about!