By Carolyn Watts
THE CAPE COD JOURNAL
FALMOUTH -- When
Alicja Mann was choosing her career in communist Poland, becoming a
writer was out of the question. "I do not like to lie. I knew I
could not be right at that time," the straightforward Falmouth
author explains.She instead chose science -- a discipline where one
didn't have to stretch the truth or tow the party line.
"As a scientist I could be creative and free. There I learned the truth, either something is or it is not. Science let me be who I wanted to be at the time. It gave me freedom without compromising," Mann explains. It also provided her with international contacts and the opportunity to travel, a rarity at the time in her home country. In 1968, she traveled to Missouri to take part in a year-long educational exchange program. The experience changed her life.
"It was a very significant year -- a crucial year historically. Vietnam was going on, Bobby Kennedy was killed. I was here for all of that," she explains. For Mann, it was also a momentous time personally -- she fell in love with an American student. After returning to Poland and struggling to get a visa, she married and immigrated to the United States in 1972.
Re-rooted in Woods Hole, she got a job at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a microbiologist. She had two children and later moved to the National Marine Fisheries Service, first working as a biologist and later as a translator for the Russian and Polish scientists (Mann is fluent in both languages) who were part of the service's scientific exchange program. Her shift into the world of words was made. Gradually she made the transition from translating to writing.
Her first published piece, " 'Pilgrim' thankful for being home," was printed in The Cape Cod Times in November 1982. The column, about Mann's gradual incorporation of the Thanksgiving holiday into her own life and her experience as a "pilgrim," set the tone for future pieces she would write for the paper -- many of them dealing with the struggle to adapt not only to a new culture, but also to a new political system.
Mann's weekly column for the Times, which she wrote for three years, was often peppered with astute observations on the United States and Eastern Europe. Her goal -- to examine and educate.
In 1985, Mann began her own company, Word Studio. Specializing in writing, advertising and publishing, the Falmouth company's work has been used in a number of environmental trade journals. It is work that Mann says she believes in and "doesn't require selling your soul." The company also publishes the semi-annual literary magazine "The Onset Review."
In addition to running her company, Mann continued to write freelance articles, including features and profiles for Cape Cod Life magazine. Her longstanding interest in Native American culture led to her proposing a feature on Wampanoag women to the magazine.
"I was always influenced by Native Americans, their gentle approach to the environment, their acceptance of contradiction," Mann says. "I was raised in a culture that was very logical. The view of the communist government was that we can impose our will on the environment."
During that 1986 assignment, Mann met Earl Mills, the chief of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The two became fast friends and in 1996 they co-authored the book "The Son of Mashpee."
"I think Earl came to the point that he wanted to put together his memories about Mashpee. He is the storyteller, I am the story writer," Mann says, explaining their collaboration.
The project marked yet another turning point in Mann's life. With a clear vision of how she wanted the book to look, she made the decision to publish it herself. She is more than satisfied with the results.
"I am very proud of that project. The book is exactly how I wanted it," she says.
The book, a combination of Earl Mills' personal memoirs and a historical look at the town of Mashpee, has been a success. It is currently in its third printing and is being used by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as an anthropology textbook. It is available in most of Cape Cod's bookstores. Mann is currently working on marketing the book off-Cape.
Mann's interest in cultural issues and her own experience with discrimination has led her to become an active member of the Cape Cod Neighborhood Support Coalition, particularly its culture awareness subcommittee. She is currently spearheading the group that is working on a multicultural cookbook, due out next Christmas.
"It's a very good group and they coordinate a lot of community activities. We focus our work in Mashpee and East Falmouth because those towns have the most diverse populations. Discrimination goes in many directions. It is very important for people to be tolerant and open," Mann says.
It's been a long journey but the light at the end of Mann's tunnel is shining brighter than ever. Her next goal -- to be publisher for the people.
"I would like to be a publisher who saves things from oblivion. I would love to be publisher for the community, to show the beauty of the community," she says. "I want to publish for people who might not be able to publish somewhere else. I think today we need small publishers. I am opposing sensationalism. I am interested in issues, concepts and beauty."