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Dean Papademetriou of Somerset Hall Press: literary publisher of the Greek voice

By on April 2, 2024

The first book that Dean Papademetriou published under his imprint Somerset Hall Press was actually in the family.

“My father and Uncle Van told me about some poems and stories that their brother John had written when he was young,” says Papademetriou, by day a lawyer with the Boston Housing Authority, by night and weekends an independent publisher of more than 40 books since 2001 mostly, but not exclusively, on Greek literary and scholarly subjects. “My uncle John was a medic in the Korean War and was killed in action helping a fellow soldier. He died a hero and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.”

Dean Papademetriou

Dean Papademetriou

The book of his uncle’s stories and poems became The Golden Anthology: Writings of a Greek American Soldier in Korea. And it became only the first of a distinguished list that now includes everything from new translations of classics like the Odysseus of Kazantzakis and Bacchae of Euripides, to a graphic novel about Smyrna before and after the catastrophe of 1922 called Aivali by an author named Souloup, to the stunning and memorable memoirs and poems of the late author, actress, musician and teacher, Lili Bita.

“I have so many wonderful memories of Lili,” says Papademetriou, still moved by their literary and personal association. “We would talk all the time, multiple times a week, and she was such a wonderful person. She was very intense, very dramatic, but so loving, and just a wonderful person.”

For Aivali, the graphic novel, Somerset Hall arranged a book tour that brought the author from Greece and included appearances on the West Coast, including San Francisco and Sacramento, through to Philadelphia, and up and down the East Coast, including stops in Boston and New York.

“That was a whole book tour,” says Papademetriou, “and also reaching out to academic audiences, as well as graphic novel aficionados.”

Another volume, The Virgin Mary in Holy Icons and Stories, written by his own mother, Presvytera Athanasia (his father George C. is a retired Greek Orthodox priest and a former librarian at Hellenic College) had a foreword by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and commendations from Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, among others.

“We reached out to parishes, we reached out to theologians, and we got a good response,” says Papademetriou.

In the world of small presses like Somerset Hall, it’s all about filling in the niches.

“It’s niches, within niches, within niches,” says Papademetriou. “We get a lot of interest for specific books. There’s kind of sub-communities within the Greek community, just like in any other population. People are going to be interested in different subjects. My press promotes Greek culture and Greek Orthodox religion, but not everyone wants to read every single book, so I do have to reach out in different ways.”

The publication in 2022 of the Aivali book about Smyrna coincided with the centenary of the actual event, but other books have to be promoted doggedly and creatively, at universities where Greek is taught, and Hellenic studies, in churches, schools, and through Greek media because, he says, it’s more than a practical effort, “it’s a mission.”

“I try to promote Greek culture, and I wish there was more interest,” he says, “but I’m happy with the support I get. I always wish I had more, but we get through.”

After all, it began as a labor of love, and the publication of books a natural inclination for a self-professed “bookworm.”

“My father was a professor at Holy Cross, my mother was a Greek teacher, and I was a total bookworm,” says Papademetriou. “I was in an elementary school play and my part was the Bookworm—I even remember the costume I wore!”

He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, where his father was serving at the time, but mostly grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and Lexington, Massachusetts (following his father’s circuit of assignments: “He dedicated his entire life to the church and academic work, and my mother too, of course, supporting his mission”).

He went to the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in economics, but also English and French, before getting his law degree from Boston College Law School and working as a private and public attorney, and joining the Boston Housing Authority in 2005, where he’s the in-house counsel specializing in real estate development and management, including affordable housing, public construction, and nonprofit law.

“I do real estate finance and public finance on huge development projects for affordable housing,” he describes it. “So it’s very mission-oriented. I feel fortunate that I have something that’s using my legal and business skills, but in a mission-oriented way.”

His two siblings are on a similar family mission of service. His sister, Jane Kourtis, works for a Fortune 500 company, but also headed EOK (Epsilon Omicron Kappa), the Hellenic Women’s Club philanthropic organization. And his brother, Dr. Tom Papademetriou, is a professor of Greek history and the director of the Hellenic Studies program at Stockton University in New Jersey.

“We all had that growing up in a household like ours,” says Papademetriou. “Where education and scholarship and service are always important. And I have that in me, the scholarly side with Somerset Hall Press and the mission to promote Greek culture, but working in law and business also being creative and mission-oriented in developing public housing.”

And as for the future of Somerset Hall Press, he says, “I think I’d be happy with how things are going. I have avoided going all-electronic because I think people do still like print books and something tangible in their hands, especially us Greeks. We have respect for books. And so I think I’m gonna continue doing what I’m doing.”

About Dimitri C. Michalakis

Dimitri C. Michalakis is Editor in Chief on NEO Magazine.