Boris Fishman, Class of 2011


1.Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
Is that what it’s called now? It was Slavic Languages and Literatures when I was there. I was born in the former Soviet Union, but had really neglected this part of myself until I got to Princeton. I wanted to understand it better.
 2.What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
Oddly, I don’t have one. I had mixed feelings about attending Princeton. Academically, I thought it was magnificent. Socially, less so.
 3.Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as a key to Russian culture?
This is such a hard one to answer, because different writers give you such different things. I have been a late comer to Chekhov, but now revere him. A short story by him is life itself, no more and no less.
 4.What career path did you choose, and why?
I wanted to be a nonfiction writer, in the voice-heavy and highly narrative style of The New Yorker of the 1980s and 1990s. The Slavic major was actually pivotal in my getting a position there, after Princeton, as a fact-checker. Language is the most useful skill someone in this position can have.
 5. What are you working on now?
Having published two novels and a memoir, I teach creative writing in the MFA program at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. I am still adjusting to all the ways teaching can be a roadblock to regular writing, but I managed to start a new novel this summer. For the first time in four books, there are no Russians in it.
 6. Are there any other thoughts that you'd like to add?
I would highly recommend the Slavic L+L major. The faculty is brilliant, the attention is extremely personal – it’s just you and a couple of other students – and (apart from the value of acquainting oneself more closely with one of the great literatures of the world), you’re hardly disadvantaging your professional chances when you graduate. As in any major, what you’re ultimately developing are skills of criticism and inquiry, and Russian literature is merely the tool. Any wise employer will understand that.