NEW YORK – Greek-American Dan Georgakas, author, poet, historian, publisher, teacher, film scholar, activist and longtime National Herald contributor passed away on November 23. He was 83 years old.
Georgakas was the director of the Greek American Studies project at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College. He was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Contemporary Hellenic Issues and his bi-weekly take on TNH was one of the newspaper’s most widely read and beloved columns.
His memoir, My Detroit: Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City, is a treasure trove of Greco-American history. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Georgakas, published in 1975, documents radical African-American groups in Detroit in the 1960s and 1970s.
He was the author, publisher or co-author of a dozen titles and was a sought-after commentator on film and mass media, appearing on MTV, History Channel, the Canadian Broadcasting System, Pacifica Radio, the Voice of America and Greek National Television among other radio and television channels. Georgakas had taught at New York University, Columbia University, University of Oklahoma, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Queens College. Many of his books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish and Greek.
Georgakas was born on March 1, 1938 to Xenophon and Sophia Georgakas in Detroit. In his memoirs, he brought people and history to life so that we felt like we got to know his family members and neighbors whose lives crossed for a time in the Old Quarter. Even though we grew up in Astoria or Chicago and not Detroit, the Greek culture, traditions and heritage shaped our experience. We share with equal pride the Greco-American successes and contributions of those who fought for their children and grandchildren to have better lives, even though many also fell through the cracks. Change seems to be the only constant and although Georgakas’ Detroit no longer exists, the memory of it remains in his book.
In 1966, Georgakas and painter Ben Morea helped found an anarchist group affiliated with the Lower East Side of New York City. He has long served on the editorial board of Cineaste magazine, the acclaimed cinema quarterly, and has specialized in Latin American cinema.
Georgakas was also the subject of a documentary film titled Dan Georgakas: A Diaspora Rebel by filmmaker Kostas Vakkas. The film was screened at the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in 2015. Georgakas tells the story of his life and childhood in Detroit.
Georgakas told TNH at the time of the film’s screening that “my rebellious perspective has to do with growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Detroit and being born Greek and American. Life had greatly improved for all of us as a result of the left-wing reforms that began in the 1930s. I wanted to accelerate this kind of change. As a child of immigrants, I was not programmed to view all things American as normal and positive. This made it easier to go against the convention. Likewise, as an American, I was also not programmed for traditional Greek culture. Much of my subsequent writing and activism was aimed at breaking down the handcuffs forged by the mind that prevent us from understanding that a new economic order based on mutual aid would be far superior to our current competitive system.
Georgakas bequeathed most of his papers to the Walter P. Reuther Library, the Labor and Urban Affairs Archives at Wayne State University, with writings on cinema in the Tamiment Library at New York University.
Writer John Merrick posted on Twitter about Georgakas’ passing: “Very sad to hear that Dan Georgakas, co-author of one of the great works in left-wing Detroit history: I Do Mind Dying, is deceased. TEAR.”
Lou Katsos, founder and president of AHEPA and EMBCA also posted on social networks: asleep in the Lord a few hours ago.
Katsos continued, “My sincere condolences to his wife and family. He will be missed by many members of the university community, the hundreds of students who were honored to attend his classes and lectures, and our Hellenic community. around the world. His mother and aunt were among the children who were rescued by the Japanese ship Tokei Maru (something he discovered decades later) during the Smyrna fire in 1922. May he be remembered be eternal.
In 2018, the New York Greek Film Festival (NYGFF) paid tribute to Georgakas with a tribute held at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) Florence Gould Hall in Manhattan. Journalist Vicki James Yiannias, Professor Peter Bratsis and film producer Frosso Tsouka discussed Georgakas’ contribution to bringing Greek language films to America. A film screening of A Girl in Black (1956) and a question-and-answer session with Georgakas followed the discussion and he once again impressed audiences with his wisdom, wit and humility.
Yiannias noted in his introduction, “Author, educator, historian and film expert, Dan Georgakas is one of the founders of the New York City Greek Film Festival. Since the 1980s he has played a key role in the promotion and dissemination of Greek film in America. He has written extensively on Greek films in newspapers, magazines, film anthologies, film guides and academic journals. As the editor of the famous quarterly film Cineaste, he established a relationship between Cineaste and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
NYGFF Executive Director Maria Tzobanaki then thanked Georgakas for his “dedication to Hellenic ideals and culture, on behalf of the Greeks who love and respect the arts”, and shared “their deepest appreciation for your contribution” .
Most recently, Georgakas has participated in various Zoom events and conferences related to Greco-American culture and history. We will miss him.