Location: outside the Murray Building
Who are you?
I was born Larysa Kosach-Kvitka in Novohrad-Volynskyi, a town in northern Ukraine in 1871. Early in life, my mother gave me the pen name Lesya Ukrainka— Lesya of Ukraine.
How long have you been here?
I was unveiled on the U of S campus in October 1976, originally situated near the Arts Building. In 2013—the 100th anniversary of my passing—I was restored and moved to this garden space, closer to the Murray Library.
Tell us about your early life.
Growing up in a family of intellectuals, artists and writers, I was always enamoured with language and literature. I learned to read by age four and, in addition to my native tongue of Ukrainian, also spoke French, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, Greek, Latin and English. I was also a budding pianist, a hobby I unfortunately had to give up after contracting tuberculosis. At that point, I devoted my life to writing.
My first book of poetry, On Wings of Song, was published in 1893. Throughout my life I also wrote essays, dramatic plays, long-form prose and song lyrics, much of which incorporated Ukrainian culture and folklore.
What inspires your writing?
I am drawn to themes of human dignity, personal integrity, social alienation, feminism, loneliness and patriotism. For example, I was eight years old when I wrote my first poem, Hope, in honour of a family member arrested for her political beliefs.
Who are some of your favourite writers?
My inspirations range from Victor Hugo and William Shakespeare to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, German essayist Heinrich Heine and French poet Alfred de Musset.