The Lithuanian Writers Union (LWU) includes prose writers, poets, playwrights, translators, literary scholars, critics, and some Lithuanian writers living abroad. Branches of the LWU operate in Kaunas and Klaipėda. The organization is run by a chairman and board elected at a meeting by the members.
The LWU has its own publishing house, bookshop, library, club, writers’ retreats, and periodicals (the magazines Metai, Vilnius Review (in Russian and English), and the weeklies Nemunas and Literatūra ir menas). It also holds an annual poetry festival called Poezijos pavasaris (Poetry Spring).
Through special agreements the LWU cooperates with writers’ associations in Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Slovenia, St. Petersburg (Russia), Marburg (Germany), Graz (Austria), Finland, Hungary, Belarus, Israel and Croatia.
In 1992 the LWU was admitted to the European Writers Congress, and in 1997 to the Baltic Writers Council and the Three Seas Council.
As soon as Lithuania declared its independence on 16 February 1918 8, Lithuanian artists started to form creative groups and organizations. The Writers Section of the Lithuanian Artists Association was active at that time (1920-22, 1925-32). In 1922, the Union of Lithuanian Writers and Journalists was founded. In 1929, it was reorganized as the Union of Lithuanian Journalists, and in 1932, at the initiative of Balys Sruoga and Juozas Grušas, the Association of Lithuanian Writers (ALW) was founded. The ALW board chairman was Ignas Šeinius. It organized literary soirées and writers’ Wednesdays and provided a yearly subsidy of 5,000 litas for national awards, which were bestowed on the writers Ieva Simonaitytė (1935), Liudas Dovydėnas (1936), Jonas Aistis (1937), Salomėja Nėris (1938), and Bernardas Brazdžionis (1939). The ALW’s chairmen were Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas (1932-33), Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas (1933-37), Juozas Grušas (1937-38), Liudas Gira (1938-40), Bernardas Brazdžionis (1941), and Faustas Kirša (1942-44).
The ALW’s headquarters were in Kaunas, the provisional capital of Lithuania. Its activities were disrupted by the occupation and annexation of Lithuania.
Deportations, war, and the gulags scattered Lithuanian writers. Many of them emigrated to the West. In 1946, émigré writers (33 had been members of the ALW) established the Association of Lithuanian Émigré Writers. An almost equal number of ALW members remained in annexed Lithuania (in early 1940, the ALW had 86 members and 12 candidates).
The ALW’s reorganization into the Soviet Writers Union of the LSSR took several years. In 1940-41, the chairman of the organization’s board was Petras Cvirka. In 1942-44, the organization had a bureau in Moscow under the leadership of Kostas Korsakas. At the beginning of 1945, the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party confirmed the board of the writers’ organization. That same year, the First Writers Congress in annexed Lithuania officially established this Lithuanian writers’ organization as the Soviet Writers Union of the LSSR, which was subordinate to the Soviet Writers Union of the USSR. Its headquarters were in Vilnius.
The first postwar decade saw the imposition of socialist ideals, party spirit and “people’s” art. Writers were persecuted and terrorized: more than ninety Lithuanian writers experienced repression during this time. Lithuanian literature suffered a severe crisis. The writers’ organization was forced to take part in LSSR politics, to condemn those who were silent or of a liberal mindset as well as those who refused to agree with socialist ideas or with Lithuania’s annexation.
Publishing was nationalized (works of fiction were published by only one state publishing house), and works were censored. During the first postwar decade, some writers not only did not publish any work but did not even write. Only after Stalin’s death in 1953, during the years of the thaw, did conditions improve.
In the mid-1950’s, Antanas Miškinis, Kazys Inčiūra and others returned from the gulags and began writing again. In 1959-65, about twenty novels and more than eighty collections of poetry were published. The publication of works by émigré writers began after 1970. Significant scholarly works about literature were also published at this time.
This writers’ organization was able to support its members financially: with funds from the Literary Foundation, it built apartments for writers and distributed grants as well as tickets of admission to sanitariums and writer’s retreats. After the deletion of the word “Soviet,” the organization was renamed the Writers Union of the LSSR.
During 1970-75, Lithuanian writers translated more than a hundred books from other languages (mostly from Russian and other languages of the USSR). About fifty Lithuanian books were translated into languages of the countries of the so-called people’s democracy. Literary soirées became more frequent: during this period there were almost 2,000 of them. They were attractive because they exhibited a growing freedom of thought and the vitality of the Lithuanian language.
From 1975-85, this organization’s circumstances and book publishing changed little. Literature was still regulated; the liberal attitude of the intelligentsia was not yet accepted, and there were almost no contacts with writers from Western countries.
Nevertheless, the Communist Party failed to completely shackle literary life. Literature became more free, and creative resistance more open. There were various ways of circumventing the censor. The spread of democracy in 1985 and 1986 opened the door a bit wider to freedom of thought in art, history, and politics.
Progressive tendencies also grew stronger in writers’ organizational activities. In 1987, at the board plenum, The Literary Heritage and Today, the Lithuanian literary heritage was surveyed through new eyes; plans were made for how it would be published, and an agreement was reached to expand the publication of literature by writers who had emigrated or been exiled.
The spirit of national rebirth burst forth with anniversary events devoted to Maironis, Vincas Kudirka, and the journal Varpas. Conversations that writers had previously had behind closed doors became public, and there were discussions and articles published in the press about censorship (abolished in Lithuania on 9 February 1990), creative freedom, the Lithuanian language, and the future of the state. Writers spoke openly about their country’s occupation and annexation, about exile and resistance, and about the restoration of the Republic of Lithuania.
On 3 June 1988, at a meeting of scholars, writers, and other artists, the Initiative Group of the Lithuanian Reform Movement was formed, which included many well-known writers.
On 7 June 1989, at an extraordinary meeting, the Union of LSSR Writers withdrew from the Union of USSR Writers: it declared its independence, enacted its own statutes, and changed its
name to the Lithuanian Writers Union.
The statutes of the LWU were amended at a convention that took place in the independent Republic of Lithuania on 14-15 December 1990. The LWU readmitted all the former ALW members living in Lithuania and admitted more than twenty of the ones who belonged to the ALW that was still active abroad (whose board is in Chicago since 1998). On 16 December 1994, the LWU convention stated that the organization was changing into a professional creative community that supports writers of all points of view.
The Law of the Lithuanian Republic on Artists and their Organizations, which was passed on 15 August 1996, and the decree of the Lithuanian government regarding the confirmation of the lists of property (buildings and facilities) transferred to artist organizations, which was passed on 6 December 1996, were very important to artists and their associations. That decree helped establish the headquarters of the LWU in Vilnius, its branches in Kaunas and Klaipėda, its retreats in Nida and Palanga, and the Versmė Bookshop in Vilnius as the property of the LWU. State aid to artists took the form of grants, book and periodical publishing, and the support of programs run by arts organizations.
In 2005, the Lithuanian Writers Union, on the basis of new laws relating to associations, was re-registered from a general creative organization to become the “Lithuanian Writers Union”. Three hundred fifty-four union members were granted the status of artistic creators.
In 2006, a new internet page was established, www.rasytojai.lt, which gives information on all the union members, young writers, published books, literary festivals, events at the Writer’s Club, and other activities connected to writers and literature.
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Since the Second World War Lithuanian writers have held many conventions in Vilnius: in 1945, 1954, 1959, 1967, 1970, 1975, 1981, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002. Since 2004, conventions are held every year where the report of the year’s activities is confirmed and validated.
The chairmen of the LWU’s board during its time were: Kostas Korsakas (1945), Petras Cvirka (1945-47), Petras Cvirka (1945-47), Jonas Šimkus (1948-54), Antanas Venclova (1954-59), Eduardas Mieželaitis (1959-70), Alfonsas Bieliauskas (1970-76), Alfonsas Maldonis (1976-88), and Vytautas Martinkus (1988-89). The chairmen of the LWU elected at conventions were: Vytautas Martinkus (1989-94), Valentinas Sventickas (1994-2002), Jonas Liniauskas (2002-11), and Antanas A. Jonynas (2011-15).
SUBDIVISIONS OF THE LITHUANIAN WRITER’S UNION
The subdivisions of the LWU have been set up in order to write, publish and disseminate literature, to defend freedom of expression and the rights of authors, provide an outlet for conversation and recreation, and render assistance when necessary.
The Publishing House of the Lithuanian Writers Union was established in 1990. During the past twenty years, almost 1,000 books have been published. They include new works of prose and poetry, criticism, essays, the Lithuanian literary heritage, memoirs, the best émigré writing, children’s books, translations of popular foreign authors, etc. The most important book series are The Treasure House of Lithuanian Literature: The 20th Century, The First Book, and Winners of the National Culture and Art Award. From the very beginning, this publishing house has been oriented toward serious literary art: much attention is devoted to the selection of works for publication, their editing and proofreading, and their design and printing. The works put out by the Publishing House of the Lithuanian Writers Union have won many authors various literary prizes such as the State Art Award and the National Culture and Art Award. The publishing house participates in foreign and local book fairs, has won prizes in contests devoted to Lithuanian and Baltic book art, and organizes presentations for new books.
The Writers’ Club implements diverse literary projects related to preserving historical memory and the meaning of the Lithuanian literary tradition, the spread of Lithuanian exile literature, the popularization of the works of young writers, the presentation of National Culture and Art Award winners to readers, and the support of contemporary Lithuanian literature and its authors. In cooperation with profesional artists in different fields, other social organizations, district and city governments, cultural and educational departments, publishing houses, children’s homes, libraries, schools, museums, universities, academies, cultural centers, and embassies, the Writers’ Club organizes various events. It focuses on soirées devoted to individual authors and young artists, on poetry and music events, readings, discussions, anniversary celebrations for writers, concerts, exhibitions, and other events that attract great attention not only in the Writers Club hall but also throughout Lithuania. The Writers’ Club organizes the international poetry festival Poezijos pavasaris (Poetry Spring), which is the largest and most significant literary festival in Lithuania, with events now in other countries as well.
The writers’ retreat, Plunksna (Quill), located in Nida on Urbas Hill, attracts not only Lithuanian and foreign writers. Here, you will also meet composers, artists, and photographers. Seeing the Baltic Sea from your window as well as the Curonian lagoon, a pine forest and sand dunes will put you in the right frame of mind for creative work and rest. The unique beauty of the Curonian Spit unfolds as you gaze from this retreat’s café – the only one at such an elevation in Nida. People usually vacation here in summer, often with their families. During the summer months, this home can accommodate seventy people at one time. Its unique architectural design provides rooms with the needed seclusion so that a writer is guaranteed peace and quiet. Since 2010, the maintenance of this retreat and the needs of guests have been the responsibility of the firm UAB Chajamas. All the buildings here are the property of the LWU.
The writer’s retreat, Diemedis (Wormwood), in Palanga, was long in need of investment for renovation and reconstruction. In 2000, LWU decided to sponsor an open contest to find renters who, for the right to use the facilities, would renew and care for the retreat. There are still discounts for writers, so not a few writers have since gone to visit – every year there is significant turnover.
That same desire to renew and improve was behind the rental of Versmė bookstore to UAB Vagos prekybai. Since 2010, the bookstore is rented by UAB Knygų namai LT. All rented buildings are still owned by LWU.
The Literary Foundation of the LWU, founded by the LWU board, supports members of the LWU from the funds generated by LWU enterprises. This foundation has its own board and chairman. It provides support for literary events, the publication of books, and the care of memorials.
The LWU Kaunas Branch includes fifty-eight writers, and the Klaipeda Branch, twenty-seven (figures as of March, 2015). The branches have their own statutes and chairmen. They organize meetings and traditional events.
The library of the LWU (containing over 52,000 books and numerous cultural per
iodicals) is frequently visited by writers and members of their families.
The LWU, together with other artists’ unions, founded the Lithuanian Copyright Protection Association and the Press, Radio, and Television Support Fund. It initiated the establishment of the Lithuanian Association of Artists (the statutes of this association were registered on 2 May 1995) and has its own representatives in it. It participates in the drafting of laws and other documents relating to its plans.
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The LWU building complex is also headquarters to different organizations: The Lithuanian PEN Center, and the Lithuanian Association of Artists.
The Lithuanian Writer’s Union Hall
The land on which the Lithuanian Writer’s Union Hall now stands once belonged for several centuries to Carmelites of the Church of St. George the Martyr. In 1778, the monks sold some of the land that had been given to them by Jeryz Radziwiłł to Vilnius merchants. The lot changed hands among different merchants. In 1839, one of them, Edward Wojnicki, began to erect a new two-story building designed by Karol Gregotowicz.
The home took thirty years, with disruptions, to be built, and was finished in 1868. Over that time period, the owners changed three times. The last of those, A. Manasewic z, started a new plan in 1863, and in five years there arose a large building of two-three stories with an enclosed courtyard. This was then purchased in 1882 by Count Ignat Karo Korvin-Milewski. He turned this property composed of rented apartments into a private residential palace.
For the reconstruction, the count hired the engineer Feliks Jasinski (1856–1899). The northern building of the complex was given a third floor, and the west wing was rebuilt. The count had amassed a collection of 250 late 19th c. European artworks which he planned to house in the western building. Jasinski decorated the exterior of the future gallery with decorative neo-baroque forms. The interior was newly designed with a two-floor stairway/gallery and vestibule. Both floors had roomy halls with entrances on both sides, black marble stairs with richly ornamented bannisters, and the caisson ceilings were decorated with geometric plant motifs. In the halls themselves, the walls at the bottom were covered in carved wood panels, while the upper walls sported a wide stucco band. The caisson ceiling plafonds were surrounded by complex relief drawings. The halls were also given elaborate neo-baroque tile-stoves and fireplaces.
Jasinski left Vilnius in 1888. The renovation of the palace was finished by the engineer Julian Januszewski (1857 – sometime after 1914). To the right of the main doors he built a new arcade for access to the courtyard that could be locked with metal gates. In 1892–93, the count’s living quarters in the eastern building (by Sirvydas street) were finished according to the design of architect Tadeusz Rostworowski. The facade of this building was re-worked to match the southern one.
In 1893, Count Korvin-Milewski moved to Krakow, taking his entire collection of paintings with him. The new palace was sold in 1894 to Count Anthony Tyszkiewicz. The latter only lived there for fifteen years. During that time, the interior of the eastern building was altered (Tyszkiewicz’s coat of arms was integrated above the doors). Subsequently, the impoverished count’s property was sold at auction in 1909. The palace was then purchased by Duchess Maria Skórzewskich Ogínska (1857–1945), owner of the Plungė manor. She owned the palace until the Second World War. Dr. Nijolė Lukšionytė-Tolvaišienė believes that it was this owner who ordered the latticed staircase railing and engraved metal chandeliers (“with no analogues in Vilnius”) in the vestibule. The decor of the facade was also changed, according to Ogínska’s wishes, including now the duchesses initials.
After the Second World War, the palace, nationalized during the war, was given into the hands of Lithuanian SSR Soviet Writers and Lithuanian SSR Soviet Composers Unions (established in 1940). Subsequently, the editorial offices of the monthly Pergalė (from 1945) and the weekly Literatūra ir menas (from 1946) were located here. For two years, the writer and writers’ union director, Petras Cvirka, lived in the eastern building. This turned out to be an important fact that enabled the granting of the building the status of a national monument: in 1973, it was listed in the register of Lithuanian cultural monuments not only for the local significance of the architecture but also as a historical monument.
By around 1966, the complex was solely occupied by writers. The buildings were renovated from 1970-73 by the architect Antanas Kunigėlis. The wall stucco and lacework oak paneling were rebuilt according to authentic remains, and a cafe was established in the basement. The complex was renovated again on 1986.
Translated by Rimas Užgiris