Born in Greece and based in Alabama, Theodore Pitsios is the author of three novels. His last, walk in the light, brings a new perspective to the struggles of illegal immigrants. His time in the merchant navy and his own experience as an immigrant inform his stories.
Born in Tsagarada, Greece, a large village atop Mount Pelion, Pitsios left high school early to join the Maritime Academy.
“When I was in high school, there was a shortage of maritime officers, so the Greek government changed the rules to allow young men to join the Maritime Academy after three years of high school. I wanted to see the world, so I took the test and passed,” Pitsios explained.
He graduated from the academy four years later and joined the merchant navy as an engineer. He traveled the world, on tankers, cruise ships and freighters.
“After three round trips from the Persian Gulf to California, I needed a break. I “accidentally” missed the ship, but was then reassigned to another with a nicer route. I stayed eighteen months on that one.
between ships, Pitsios explored cities and had fun experiences, but he never planned to stay in the United States. He imagined settling in the south of France or the south of England. But everything changed after a fateful evening in New York where he went to the movies. The Greek film already in progress, he crossed the street to the trade union hall of merchant seamen to wait for the next screening. There he learned of an opportunity in Miami.
“Hurricane Betsy swept away a Greek freighter near West Palm Beach. All the manuals and labels were written in Greek, so the Austrian salvage master put out a call for a Greek engineer. Honestly, I thought it wasn’t was more for me. But the snow was knee-deep in New York and the man on the phone said the women were swimming naked next to the ship,” he recalls, then laughs. “I was in LaGuardia before he hung up.”
If he hadn’t taken the job, he wouldn’t have met his late wife, Brenda. They were married for 51 years. They lived in the Bahamas for a few years, then moved to West Palm Beach, Brenda’s hometown. Together, they launched a plan to realize their American dream. They bought a restaurant, to be run by Brenda’s sister. But the Pitsiose ended up operating it themselves for a year, then sold it.
From there he worked in the shipyards of Fort Lauderdale, then moved to the Gulf Coast. He enrolled in college and took courses in mechanical engineering. After working for a marine consulting firm, he pooled all of his experience to start his own company, Universal Marine Services in Mobile, Alabama.
An avid storyteller and voracious reader, some 30 years ago he tried something new.
“I started writing my stories. A friend, a college professor, suggested I sign up for creative writing classes,” he said. “I find it to be a therapeutic escape from reality. With a sharp pencil and a good eraser, I can create empires, death-defying heroes, and irresistible lovers.
Shortly after, came the idea for his first novel, The bell tower house (Cosmos, 2007). After years of hard work in the United States to build a better life, Nikos Pilios returns to Greece. Expecting to be praised when he returns to his village, he finds more than he bargained for.
During his time in the merchant navy, Pitsios knew many sailors who had left the ship. He decided to explore this in a story. In In search of Ithaca (Cosmos, 2013), we meet Kostas Karaoglou, who leaves the ship in Miami, in 1965. He is looking for a better life, but as an illegal he doesn’t know who to trust and has to live in the shadows. We revisit Kostas and his search for the elusive American dream, in Pitsios’ latest album, walk in the light (Koehler, 2021). Kostas has dreams, makes plans, but nothing goes as he thought. Just as he is about to give up hope, someone offers him a lifeline. Carmen, a Cuban refugee, is a badass. She does things her way. And Kostas must decide if he can swallow his pride and let a woman decide or admit failure and go home.
Released during the pandemic, things got a little behind schedule, but Pitsios has been busy. This year, he has given several book talks and guest appearances on podcasts and video shows. It has garnered many five-star reviews on Amazon for walk in the light. Author Eleni N. Gage said, “An immigrant’s tale and a living period piece, this book follows one man’s odyssey as he struggles to redefine the meaning of home.”
We have all heard and read stories of Greek and other immigrants who experienced great challenges, but we don’t often hear the real stories of illegal immigrants. In walk in the light, Theodore Pitsios highlights their struggles, hopes and aspirations. Thanks to Greek sailor Kostas Karaoglou, we dive deep into this experience and its own unique challenges. This gripping story will make you see immigrants – legal and illegal – in a whole new “light”.
Today, Pitsios is in semi-retirement, which leaves him more time for his two passions: community theater and writing. He’ll perform later this month in a local production of “Murder on the Orient Express,” and he’s working on his memoir.
As for the future, he said, with his characteristic humour: “I am 81 years old. At my age, I take life day by day. My immediate plans are to get to 82, finish writing my memoirs, and see a few other parts of the world.
Learn more about Theodore Pitsios on www.theodorepitsios.com.