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  • Vasa D. Mihailovich (1926–2015)
  • Krinka Vidaković-Petrov

Vasa D. Mihailovich was born in the southern Serbian town of Prokuplje in 1926. After leaving his homeland of Serbia (Yugoslavia) to settle in the United States in 1951, Vasa D. Mihailovich dedicated himself to building an intangible bridge connecting the two parts of his life: two cultures, languages, and literatures. He has done so in many ways: by teaching Serbian language and literature, translating literary works from Serbian into English, researching and writing on Serbian writers and literature, editing anthologies, compiling bibliographies, writing reviews, and organizing professional associations and public fora for the presentation and dissemination of information on issues pertaining not only to Serbian, but Yugoslav and Slavic culture as well. These were the building blocks in the bridge that made possible and enhanced communication between one end and the other, highlighting the Serbian, Yugoslav, and South Slavic contribution to the world republic of letters and culture.

Vasa D. Mihailovich defended his Ph.D. thesis “Hermann Hesse and Russian Literature” at the University of California at Berkeley and became a professor in the Department for Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he held courses on Russian language and literature as well as Serbian language and literature (1961–95). In addition to teaching and academic duties, he engaged in a number of other activities following his multifaceted interest in literature. Mihailovich’s short stories and poems present him as a modern writer, a key representative of contemporary Serbian literature in the diaspora. He was also an avid and insightful reader of past and present Serbian literature and over many years published numerous reviews, studies, anthologies, translations, and bibliographies.

Among his translations were the works of the most important modern Serbian/Yugoslav writers, as well as the best of Serbian literature from earlier historical periods. Especially outstanding were Mihailovich’s translations of the Mountain Wreath by P. Petrović Njegoš and Blue Legends by J. Dučić. [End Page 213] Two activities, those of editor and translator, converged in Mihailovich’s anthologies, namely White Stones and Fir Trees: An Anthology of Contemporary Slavic Literature (1977) and Serbian Poetry from the Beginnings to the Present (1988). Translation further led to the compilation, with Dr. Mateja Matejić, of a fundamental bibliography: A Comprehensive Bibliography of Yugoslav Literature in English 1593–1980 (1984) with two supplements (the first supplement for 1981–85, published in 1988, and the second for 1986–90, published in 1992). Other works by Vasa Mihailovich in Slavic, Yugoslav, and Serbian literature and culture were Modern Slavic Literature (1977), Contemporary Yugoslav Poetry (1977), and Landmarks in Serbian Culture and History (1983).

Mihailovich approached literature in a comprehensive way and with persistent interest and loyal love. For many years and on a regular basis, he published reviews of Serbian and Yugoslav literary works in World Literature Today, introducing them to an international audience. He was a regular contributor to Serbian-American periodical publications, such as the American Srbobran and its literary supplement, Serb World, and Serbian Studies. He also promoted Serbian literature through his work as editor and contributor of publications such as the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, the Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, and the Dictionary of Literary Biography: South Slavic Writers.

Mihailovich was one of the first Serbian writers and scholars in the US who renewed contacts with Yugoslavia and kept going back regularly, establishing ties between Serbian writers abroad with those in the homeland, presenting Serbian literature abroad and Serbian American writers in Yugoslavia. Breaking new ground, Mihailovich continued building his magnificent bridge. He published one of the first anthologies of Serbian poetry authored by Serbian writers of the diaspora—In a Foreign Harbor: Anthology of Serbian Poetry Written Abroad (1988)—and became the first writer from abroad to join the Association of Serbian Writers in Belgrade.

Vasa D. Mihailovich was one of the founding members of the North American Society for Serbian Studies, the second president of the Society, and a lifelong promoter of Serbian studies on the North American continent. Among his recent works was a memoir, My Life (2010), and his very last publication was...