Elias Basil Michael Kulukundis
July 23, 1937 – July 3, 2020
Beloved father, brother, and friend, Elias strived from an early age to bridge the cultures of Greece and America. He was a writer and natural storyteller who resisted the military dictatorship in Greece during the 1960s, and continued to lead an adventurous life across multiple continents while maintaining a successful career in shipping, his family’s business.
Born in London on July 23, 1937, Elias emigrated with his parents to the United States via Greece in 1940. He attended Rye Country Day School and graduated from the Phillips Exeter Academy. He received a B.A. and a Master’s degree in Education from Harvard University in 1959, and later returned to Exeter as a faculty member in the English Department. Elias was fluent in Russian and translated “Both Sides of The Ocean” by Victor Nekrasov during the Soviet era.
Elias’ first book The Feasts of Memory: a Journey to a Greek Island (Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1967) is a delightful account of his first visit to the small island of Kasos, the birthplace of his ancestors. The New Yorker called it “… funny and most engaging … an excellent anecdotal history of Kasiot lore … a beautiful and imaginative exploration of a writer’s relationship to his origins.”
During the military dictatorship in Greece 1967-1974, he staged a daring rescue of George Mylonas, minister of Education of the deposed government and father of his first wife, Eleni. George Mylonas was held as a political prisoner under house arrest on the distant island of Amorgos and was the only exiled politician who managed to escape his captors. The story of the prisoner of Amorgos was covered by the New York Times, first by a New York Times Magazine article by Nicholas Gage which preceded the actual rescue, followed by a front page report of the rescue itself. That adventure became the basis of his second book The Amorgos Conspiracy.
Elias became a father with his second wife, Lucy Platt who died when their daughter Delia was 6 years old. He raised his daughter on his own while he continued to travel and to write. He published two more books, First Passage and Bold Coasts, as well as Greek versions of The Amorgos Conspiracy and of Bold Coasts. He wrote numerous articles, maintained a blog, and wrote the operetta Three Brides for Kasos while also pursuing a successful shipping career.
Elias supported and mentored younger writers, and established the George Bennett Fellowship for writers in residence at Exeter in memory of his beloved English teacher. He loved bringing people together, especially to tell stories. His friends remember his ability to converse on multiple subjects, and the sense that he deeply cared about other people and their thoughts and ideas. He had a heartfelt laugh and a deep baritone singing voice which he cultivated accompanying himself on the piano.
Elias continued his adventurous and semi-nomadic lifestyle into his 80s, splitting his time between New York, Berlin and Syros. He passed away on July 3, 2020, at his home in Syros, Greece from complications from prostate cancer. He is survived by his daughter Delia and son-in-law Matthew Fowles Kulukundis, his brother and sister-in-law Stathes and Koula Kulukundis, his first wife and lifelong friend Eleni Mylonas, multiple nieces and nephews, and numerous friends around the world. The family will be holding a memorial service at a date to be determined once public health conditions allow.
“The Feasts of Memory by Elias Kulukundis is a rich literary banquet. It’s a fascinating travel memoir that echoes the writings on Greece of Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, a revealing family chronicle of one of the great Greek shipping dynasties, and a sharply etched portrait of Aegean life as it was lived for centuries but is now rapidly fading away.” – Nicholas Gage
“Elias Kulukundis is a born storyteller, one of those rare and enchanting people who instinctively disentangle the essential story from the confusion of … events, choose the most striking elements, cherish its principal characters, and give it a new lease on life.” – Helen Vlachos, The Spectator
“Elias Kulukundis brilliantly captures a rich and complex world at a dangerous and critical time. He takes the reader inside a Greek shipping family, inside Greek politics, inside a plot to free a prisoner under the Colonels, and inside a questing and adventurous Greek-American’s heart. The Amorgos Conspiracy is a page-turner.” – Arianna Huffington, publisher, The Huffington Post