Ewa Winnicka, a Polish journalist living in Warsaw, has always been interested in migration, “I think it’s one of the strongest experiences one can have,” she says. Her previous books include “Angole,” a book about Polish immigrants to the U.K.
In her upcoming book, tentatively titled “Life and Death On Manhattan Avenue,” she sets out to explore the history of immigration to Greenpoint. She first became interested in Greenpoint through Polish movies and books. “Greenpoint is really quite important in Polish culture. But it is very stereotyped,” Winnicka says. With her book, she set out to challenge the existing stereotypes: “I do not accept simplified versions of history.”
When she first stepped out of the Greenpoint Avenue subway station in 2001, “It was like a punch in the face,” she says. “All of a sudden I found myself in a tiny, extremely conservative town in Poland.” She quotes Janusz Glowacki, a Polish playwright, who wrote about Greenpoint in his 2004 memoir: “Poles in New York instantly become even more Polish than they were in Poland.”
Her book will have two parts. The first part will be a history of immigration, looking at the Irish, German, and Polish immigrants to Greenpoint through diary entries and personal accounts and the second part will be a collection of contemporary stories from residents. (Full disclosure: Winnicka interviewed my sister and I for this project).
As of now, Winnicka has collected about 150 stories from residents on and around Manhattan Avenue. Many of the stories are sad, she says, telling stories of parents who send money back to their children in Poland and aren’t able to watch them grow up. Winnicka tells the story of a well-known woman named Regina who lived in Williamsburg and helped Polish women find jobs once they arrived in Brooklyn. “If you asked people in Poland who recently returned from New York, they would know here name, which is amazing,” says Winnicka.
While working on her book, Winnicka has grown to love Greenpoint. She says that when she is in Greenpoint, she feels she is in a neighborhood “where people know each other and they can help each other.”
Next for Winnicka is finishing the manuscript. “I really love talking to people,” she says, “the worst part is to establish a connection between the chair and your ass,” joking about the writing process.