Interview: Columnist Georgia Garvey on Her Greek Heritage and New Book, Everything Is Going to Be Okay (Until It’s Not)
The phrase “it’s all Greek to me” is often used to refer to complicated things people cannot understand. Yet for award-winning columnist and former Chicago Tribune editor Georgia Garvey, her identity as a first-generation Greek immigrant not only informs her writing, it also helps her connect with readers across differences and enables them to better understand her perspective.
In Garvey’s incredibly relatable, personal and at times hilarious new book Everything Is Going to Be Okay (Until It’s Not), her columns are compiled for the first time in a collection that covers everything from how parents survived pandemic lockdowns and why we should trust scientists, to the quirks of Greek holidays and memories of her grandmother, who she calls her “most ardent protector, [her] vengeful Greek goddess of a Yia-Yia.”
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re very vocal about your Greek heritage, which I appreciate as a fellow Greek American! How has your Greek identity informed your love of storytelling and the topics you choose to write about in your columns?
I write a lot about Greece and being Greek. It’s one of the themes of my writing, one of the things about me that makes me different from other columnists. There is a unique perspective that you have when you grow up between two cultures, feeling sort of like an outsider in both of them. From the earliest time that I can remember, I was reading about Greek stories. Storytelling is such an important part of the Greek culture, it’s a fundamental part of who we are as a people. No matter where you go in Greece, or even if you're in the United States, there are Greeks gathering around telling stories about things that happened in their day or things that happened in the past—there's something that really unites us as a people, around stories. And that's always been really important to me. […] When I grew up, I felt a little bit weird because of the food we ate and the way we talked, and what our holidays were like as opposed to what some of my other friends were doing. But then you get older and you start to realize: it's the things that make you different that are the best parts of you. And so you start to appreciate those things more and more.
Author Georgia Garvey. Photo credit Stacey Wescott.
All of the columns in this book are from the “pandemic years” (starting in 2020) through the present, other than the first column—a heartfelt and moving piece about your fertility struggles, the birth of your first son and your relationship with your Yia-Yia. Why did you decide to start the collection with this one?
That was one of the first columns that I wrote for the Chicago Tribune, and I decided to include it because I really wanted to have a representation of me as a columnist. I couldn't have that without including this first piece, because it's a monumental part of my life. My grandmother—her name is Katerina and I dedicated the book to her—she continues to be a very important part of my life, even though she passed away some time ago. So that's why I wanted to include it. […] Then after I left the Tribune and I started writing the weekly syndicated column, most of those columns are included. So the early pandemic days are represented, a lot of pandemic things, but then it started to shift and became a little bit more about normal life, whatever that is.
On that note, the pandemic years have been tumultuous in so many ways. Which columns have been most meaningful for you to write, in terms of the impact they had on you personally, working through a topic, or the feedback that you've received from readers?
Well, I used to get a lot of hate mail [she laughs] and I don't get as much hate mail now as in the early days! But the column that I think got the most positive response was one I wrote in the early days of the pandemic (“Why are we in quarantine? We’re saving the lives of people we will never meet”). I'm sure you remember there was a lot of discussion about, “Why are we isolating and wearing masks? The only people who are dying with COVID are elderly people or people who are sick or people who are about to die anyway.” And it was really important for me to talk about my experience with my grandmother, when I got the chance to see her after she had several strokes and was very ill. But before she died, I had the chance to see her and I had some closure to our relationship. I wanted to reiterate for people, there's value to life and it does not matter if the person has an extra day, or an extra minute or an extra ten years. That is something that we should be fighting to preserve. That's the column I wrote that was the most meaningful to me […] but I’ve also gotten positive feedback about stuff I've written about my kids, people really appreciating that I'm not sugarcoating what it's like to be a parent. A lot of the impressions we get from social media are that everyone's life is so flawless and everyone's always going on vacation and having fun and eating beautiful dinners—and the reality is we're all living lives that are at times messy, at times awesome. I think it's important to be honest about that.
If your Yia-Yia was still here with us, what do you think she would say about your book?
I am sure that she would be thrilled and proud. I know that she would have some opinion about something… you know, there would be something she wouldn't like about the title or cover or the color or whatever. I'm sure she would have some opinion about it! But underneath, I know that she would be really proud, and I’m happy to think that in some way she understands what's happening. And I hope she's smiling.
It's a beautiful tribute, dedicating the book to Katerina. As we say in Greek, aiónia e mními. May her memory be eternal.
Garvey will speak about her book and career as a journalist at The Book Stall in Winnetka on Thursday, January 18, at 6:30 p.m. Free registration is available online here.
Georgia Garvey’s Everything Is Going to Be Okay (Until It’s Not) was published by Creators Publishing in September 2023, and is available at your local independent bookstore or the publisher’s website.
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Elizabeth Niarchos Neukirch
Elizabeth Niarchos Neukirch is a Greek American writer and PR consultant for Chicago arts and nonprofit organizations. Her fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in publications including Mississippi Review, Take ONE Magazine, The Sunlight Press and The Daily Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter/X at @EJNeukirch and learn more at elizabethniarchosneukirch.com. Photo by Diane Alexander White.