Lillian Vallee, Ph.D. 2004

Lillian Vallee was born in Hamburg, Germany, to Polish parents displaced by World War II. She grew up in Detroit, Michigan, but has spent most of her adult life in California, the last twenty years in California’s Central Valley.

Vallee has degrees in English Literature (B.A.) and Slavic Languages and Literatures (M.A., Ph.D., with a specialization in Polish literature), all from the University of California, Berkeley. While attending U.C. Berkeley, Vallee received a number of scholarships, including a Stanford-Warsaw Exchange scholarship, a Fulbright fellowship, and two National Defense Language scholarships to pursue study of Polish and Polish literature. Her passion is the literature and history of the interwar period (1918-1939) in Poland, with a special interest in the writings issuing from Polish “borderlands.” Vallee’s dissertation, entitled Bear with a Cross: Primordial Tradition in the Work of Czeslaw Milosz, testifies to an abiding interest in the work of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry, like that of Adam Mickiewicz before him, expresses a distinct Polish-Lithuanian ethos earning both poets the sobriquet of “children of millennia.”

Vallee also served an apprenticeship as a translator with Czeslaw Milosz; one of their collaborations, a volume of Milosz’s poetry entitled Bells in Winter, was one of only two volumes of Milosz’s poetry available in English when he won the Nobel Prize in 1980 and the only one in print at the time. For the last two decades Vallee has translated over a dozen books and scores of articles and poems from the Polish; she has been honored with a National Endowment for the Humanities Translation Grant, a Wheatland Foundation grant, the Konstanty Jelenski Translation Prize, and the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award for Translation, among other prizes, for her translation work.

In addition to Vallee’s scholarly interest in Slavic languages and literatures, she is also an active poet and essayist. She has published over 170 translations, articles, reviews, and poems and has given more than 90 public talks, lectures and readings on a variety of subjects, from the natural history of California’s Central Valley to contemporary Polish poetry. She is one of the featured poets in Highway 99, A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley, and the author of three chapbooks—Vision at Orestimba, Erratics, and handful of snow, which are tributes to the natural and cultural heritage of the Central Valley and to her own upbringing as the daughter of Polish immigrants. As an instructor of English at Modesto Junior College, Vallee enjoys teaching all levels of composition courses as well as poetry writing and critical thinking. Her courses often have an interdisciplinary and “regional” flavor.

Vallee writes a monthly column, “Rivers of Birds, Forests of Tule: Central Valley Nature and Culture in Season,” in Stanislaus Connections. The short essays capture her enthusiasm as an amateur naturalist devoted to the Central Valley bioregion. For the past nine years, as volunteers for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Vallee and MJC students have worked on grassland and freshwater marsh restoration projects at San Luis and Merced National Wildlife refuges. At last count, volunteers had planted over a half million trees and eliminated at least an equal amount of noxious weeds in an effort to restore some of the Central Valley’s legendary wetlands, so crucial to migratory wildlife.

As a graduate of the University of California, Vallee sees public service and private scholarship as compatible, mutually enriching activities, beneficial to the public, by generating thoughtful advocacy for the public good, and to the scholar, by grounding language in fact and experience.