Zeese Papanikolas

I entered the world slippery and squalling in the L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake on April 29, 1942 and my first days were spent in a rented house in my father’s home town of Magna, Utah.   My father, Nick Papanikolas is listed on my birth certificate as a part-owner of a lumberyard.    My mother, born Helen Zeese, grew up in Helper, Utah.   It was from my parents’ stories of the lives of the immigrants and their children in these little industrial towns that I first got my taste for the history of the West and my interest in one day telling such stories myself.    My father was a natural story-teller who was sometimes carried away by the possibilities of the tale and strayed from what you might call the narrow road of fact, but when he talked about an incident from his childhood the life of the rough, scrappy town of Magna came to life before you.   My mother’s stories were of a different sort.   She had wanted to write since girlhood and Helper became her inspiration, a sociology lab, a historical source and the inspiration for stories that were written with the humanity of the writers she most admired, Chekov especially and the American realists of the first half 20th century.   But she was a published historian before any of her fiction reached print, and had the historian’s insistence on accuracy in both her fiction and non-fiction.

After high school in Salt Lake I went to Kenyon College, in Ohio, and then, after spending nine months in Athens trying to learn some of my grandparents’ and parents’ Modern Greek, I returned to the United States to finish my Bachelor of Arts degree at San Francisco State College (now University).   I received a Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford and studied with two Utah writers, very different in character and in their approach to fiction and both important to me and my work: Wallace Stegner and Richard Scowcroft.   After getting a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Stanford I stayed in Northern California and now live in Oakland with my wife Ruth Fallenbaum, a clinical psychologist.  It tells a lot about my roots in Utah and my attachment to its deserts and mountains that it was only in fairly recent years that I have finally stopped feeling like a tourist in California, in spite of my years of teaching at the San Francisco Art institute and my enjoyment of the cultural opportunities and mild weather of the Bay Area.  The attachment to what has been my home since the 1960s came through reading deeply in two very different Oakland writers, Gertrude Stein and Jack London.   The hook here was history, the working-class history embodied in Jack London’s best works and the intellectual and cultural history buzzing around Gertrude Stein.   Now that I think of it, I believe almost all of my writing, from my first book about an obscure Greek immigrant labor organizer killed in a brutal mine strike to my subsequent studies of American history and culture have been similar attempts by someone born between two languages in an obscure State, to try to understand his country.



An American Cakewalk: Ten Syncopators of the Modern World (Stanford, California. Stanford University Press, 2015). 

Hugo Dux, M. D., The Chief of All the Dadaists in Czechoslovakia (in English and Czech Translation), (Teplice, Czech Republic, Regional Museum in Teplice, 2013) 

American Silence (Lincoln, Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press, 2007). 

Trickster in the Land of Dreams (Lincoln, Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press, 1995). 

Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1982; Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1991). 

Additional Info

  • Region: Wasatch Front
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Tags: Memoir