ARI Literature Foundation has published Tenny Arlen’s collection of poems, Saying with Passion Why I Am Here. Born and raised in the USA, Tenny decided to write in her “native,” but at the same time adopted language, Armenian, which she started to learn at age 21.
Even though the Armenian diaspora is one of the oldest and largest in the USA, this book is in fact the first full-length volume of creative literature written and published in Armenian by a US-born author during the community’s 130-year history.
The poems reveal a powerful and creative voice, able to give expression to subtleties of human emotion and experience. She does not shy away from confronting life’s most gripping existential questions or entering the most deep and inner recesses of the self.
Tenny was born and raised in California far removed from any Armenian community. She began her undergraduate studies at UCLA without prior knowledge of Armenian. There, she took courses in Western Armenian language and literature for two years, and, already possessing exceptional poetic talent, soon began to create in Armenian. This collection of poems was written about 15-20 months after beginning Armenian language studies.
Such a remarkable accomplishment in such a short span of time reveals both Tenny Arlen’s exceptional dedication to her literary craft as well as her singular determination to learn and then create in her adopted language.
Language studies were just the beginning of her larger quest to reclaim her Armenian identity and take her place in the world of letters. In 2013 she graduated from UCLA with highest honors, receiving a B.A. in Comparative Literature. In 2015, she was admitted into University of Michigan’s doctoral program in Comparative Literature with a plan to study French and Armenian symbolist poetry, but she passed away in a car accident before beginning the program. During the last months of her life, she adopted a new name, Soghovmé, as a symbol of her Armenian and poetic identity.
The editor of the book, Hagop Gulludjian, was Tenny’s professor and mentor at UCLA. An afterword by Gulludjian tells of Tenny’s creative journey in Armenian, told from the perspective of one who witnessed and nurtured her development. The goal of this publication is not just to keep Arlen’s work alive and present it to the Armenian-reading community, but also to demonstrate that it is actually possible to write and create in Armenian in the Diaspora, even in the western hemisphere.
The book is published with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.