In the Fall issue of the Coal Cracker, Amber Lawrence published her interview with Nick Kupensky about the Kubek Project entitled “A Walk Through History: A Yale Scholar on the Streets of Mahanoy City.” Lawrence’s article reads:
I was lucky enough to interview Yale scholar Nicholas Kupensky, a teacher and author who has studied Carpatho-Rusyn language and literature. I asked him a few questions about his life and career, and a walking tour he is working on based on the writings of Father Emil Kubek, who served as pastor of St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Mahanoy City from 1904 to 1940.
Coal Cracker: What is your background?
Nicholas Kupensky: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. My father’s family is of Polish ancestry. My mother’s side is Carpatho-Rusyn. I graduated from Bucknell University in 2007 with a triple major in Comparative Humanities, Russian, and English, and then started my Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. I have been teaching at Bucknell since 2013 in Comparative Humanities and Russian Studies as a Visiting Assistant Professor. This academic year, I’ll be finishing my dissertation at Yale.
CC: I heard that you had written for a youth-led newspaper like Coal Cracker. Can you tell me about that experience and what got you into writing?
NK: This is a funny story. When I was in middle school, my parents had bought a new Gateway computer that came with some free publishing software, so I started to play around with it and realized that I could publish my own newspaper. I wrote all the stories, made all the graphics, did all of the design, etc. and then I started selling it at school for a quarter (or maybe it was a dollar). I ended up getting into a lot of trouble for this, but my middle school language arts teacher (Gina Tabacca) saw that the quality of the writing and design were pretty high (even if the things I was writing about were less than ideal). She arranged for me to meet with Guy Coviello, the editor of our local newspaper (the Warren Tribune Chronicle), which happened to have an award-winning teen section, called Page One.
I lived at Page One when I was in high school. I started out as a news reporter, then got really interested in graphic design and pagination, and then was one of the editors by the time I graduated. A lot of nights I would go to the Tribune even if I didn’t have anything specific to work on since I just liked being in the newsroom. One night, the main paper’s graphic designer called in sick (or maybe was on vacation?), so I pitched in and started working for the main paper as a freelancer as well. I think by the time I graduated from high school, I had published or designed well over 100 stories and pages.
CC: How did you become interested in your chosen field of Carpatho-Rusyn languages and literature?
NK: When I was growing up, my grandmother lived with us, and she was a very devout Orthodox Christian. She went to St. John’s Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Sharon, PA a lot — it felt like every day — and a lot of the times she took me along with her. She also spoke Russian and Carpatho-Rusyn (although I didn’t know what a Carpatho-Rusyn was at the time). Because I didn’t really understand the complex differences between ethnic groups at the time. I assumed that our family was Russian since that was the only country I had ever heard about in school, and so I started to study Russian when I was a student at Bucknell.
I completely fell in love with Russian language and even more so Russian literature. I studied abroad in Moscow in the spring of 2006. I applied to go to graduate school in Russian literature and was accepted. I spent a year between undergrad and graduate school in Moscow again (2007-2008), and have had a number of very cool jobs there. I taught English to the Russian Olympic Team, taught a number of courses at the Russian State University for the Humanities, was the tutor of some high level businessmen and a current member of Putin’s cabinet. But the more I learned about Russian history, the more I realized something didn’t add up.
When my grandmother died in 2007, I found the villages where her parents lived, and they were both from what is now southern Poland. My grandfather’s family came from the village of Čirč in what is now eastern Slovakia and had been there for 300 years. These areas had never been part of Russia, but I couldn’t really figure out who they were.
I was at a Slavic conference in 2008 and just happened to be walking through the book dealer’s section, when I came upon a booth sponsored by the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center (I happen to be the Vice President of the organization now). They had a large map that showed all of the villages where Carpatho-Rusyns have historically lived, and I found my grandparents villages on it. And then I realized I wasn’t Russian but Carpatho-Rusyn.
In 2011, I studied abroad in Prešov, Slovakia for three weeks at the Studium Carpato-Ruthenorum, which is the only program available where you can learn about Carpatho-Rusyn history and learn Carpatho-Rusyn language. And long story short, I got hooked.
Read the full story here: