UMD French professor Milan Kovacovic shares vivid, lively memories at book signing event

A UMD French professor Milan Kovacovic and Clint Eastwood might have more in common than they think. At one point in his recently published memoir, "Ma's Dictionary", Milan Kovacovic narrates how the initial glimpse of a shiny car can, despite di...

Maureen Tobin-Stanley, the author's co-worker at UMD, and Laurie Kovacovic, the author's daughter, take their seats at a reading from Ma's Dictionary by Milan Kovacovic. Photo by Thomas Vaughn for the Budgeteer

A UMD French professor Milan Kovacovic and Clint Eastwood might have more in common than they think. At one point in his recently published memoir, "Ma's Dictionary", Milan Kovacovic narrates how the initial glimpse of a shiny car can, despite different circumstances, bring separate generations closer together, as in Eastwood's 2008 film drama "Gran Torino."

Last month, The Bookstore at Fitger's hosted a live reading from "Ma's Dictionary" to celebrate its publication. The car scene, which Kovacovic read, brought listeners back to his adolescent years spent in Cicero, Illinois, where he worked at a linoleum and dinette store. His employer owns a 1954 Oldsmobile hardtop which the young Kovacovic wants to wash and wax. Soon, he gets the privilege. Hearing it read aloud, the roomful of Kovacovic's friends, family, fellow writers and fans laughed along as he shared memories of his time with the "Oldsmobubble."  

Terry Millikan was one member of the audience who came to acknowledge publication of the book.

"I've known Milan for over twenty years, since he was just beginning to refine the book. It's a great joy for me to see that the final product is finished and out there. It's just thrilling."

Other local authors came to hear the reading as well. Stephen Dahl knows the many hours of quiet and patient revamping that go into writing a book.


"I'm a friend of Milan's. I know he's been working on this for a while. I'm quite enthused and excited to read it," said Dahl.

Kovacovic has taught French at UMD for many years. He began seriously thinking about writing his book years ago, in part when he began gathering his credentials to apply for tenure after six years of probationary teaching at UMD. Since he holds transcripts from seven different undergraduate institutions along with his graduate record, a lot of names, dates and places came to mind quickly.

Both outside and inside the classroom, people frequently ask him questions about his background.

As someone who moved from France, to Slovakia, back to France and then to Chicago, San Francisco and Duluth, Kovacovic felt a book that put everything in order would be useful.  

Sally Anderson has been manager of The Bookstore at Fitger's for 14 years. She frequently hosts book signing events, sometimes four or five times per month depending on the time of year. Nearby the store itself is a large room where patrons can enjoy refreshments, sit down, listen to authors read their works, and ask questions afterward.

"We try to bring in the local authors, to give people a chance to meet local authors and get to know their work. We want to make sure authors in

Duluth have a place."

Kristen Hylenski is an assistant professor of German who works with Kovacovic and sees him daily at work.


"He's one of those people who doesn't say a lot or talk a lot, but when he says something it's insightful and often just to the point and humorous,"

she said.

Kirsten Nisswandt, a former student, also came to the event.

"He was a wonderful professor. I'm so happy that his book has finally been published. I've been waiting to read his life's history for many, many years because I know he's had such an extraordinary life and it's wonderful to be able to finally know his history."

The title of the memoir reflects Kovacovic's admission, which he shared with his mother, of "a weird attachment to dictionaries." The book "Ma's Dictionary," published by Greysolon Press, is now available for sale at local bookstores.

"Ma's Dictionary" by Milan Kovacovic

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