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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2014 Abstracts

Armenian Coffee Houses in David Kherdian’s Homage to Adana: Negotiating Geographical, Generational, and Cultural Identities

Helen Makhdoumian, Westminster College


Despite roughly a century of Armenian American literary production, the literary theory and criticism on this body of ethnic literature has only started to develop in the last few decades. David Kherdian is an Armenian American writer whose works range from poetry to prose, fiction to memoir, and translations to retellings of Armenian tales. My research focuses on David Kherdian’s poetry collection Homage to Adana, published in 1970. Previous critics have analyzed Kherdian’s poetry for themes such as childhood, familial relationships, self-discovery, and personal and collective memory. Some critics have read some of Kherdian’s poems as reflecting the loss of Armenian culture due to assimilation in the U.S. In contrast, this presentation analyzes the motif of the Armenian coffee house in select poems in Homage to Adana as a space where geographical, generational, and cultural identities are negotiated. Although on the surface these poems indicate a loss of Armenian culture, I argue that they actually indicate a continuation and adaptation of Armenian culture in the U.S. by the younger generation. To support my argument, my approach uses the theoretical lenses of New Historicism and Cultural Studies. I contextualize these texts with the history of the Armenian diaspora and immigration. Furthermore, I include the historical and cultural significance of Armenian coffee houses as well as the use of Armenian coffee in cultural knowledge sharing. In general, the themes I look for are references to the old country, representations of immigrant Armenian men and women, oral storytelling, and food traditions. Ultimately, this analysis reveals how the poems reflect the negotiation of passing on cultural knowledge. By both continuing traditions and adapting them for everyday lived experiences, Armenian culture will remain vibrant in diaspora.