1. Why did you choose Russian culture for your profession?
I started Russian almost by accident – I was already really interested in Russian literature, but I also wanted to study Italian and a million other things. I stayed in Russian because I loved the community of Wesleyan’s Russian program, not just the wonderful professors, but also the other students, including several of my closest friends. Learning about the Russian literary tradition, especially the ways different writers influenced and responded to one another, felt almost like joining another community (if not always an entirely peaceful one!) Since teaching was another one of my interests, I took a chance at applying to graduate school, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have continued finding opportunities to learn and teach professionally.
2. What was your brightest recollection from your graduate student’s years?
There were a lot of great moments. I can’t forget about the séance some of us held to contact the spirits of all our favorite writers I was in my first year, or when Geoff (then fellow graduate student and current husband) baked a honey cake for Lyceum Day and brought it to our Pushkin seminar. Also, Roman Osminkin’s poetry performance was an amazing experience. All that coursework had prepared me not only to write a pile of essays, but also to get his jokes!
3. What literary work (or any work of art) would you like to recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia as the key to the culture?
In the year between my college graduation and the year I spent in Moscow, I liked to carry around bilingual poetry anthologies (like Obolensky’s Heritage of Russian Verse and Smith’s no-longer-so-contemporary Contemporary Russian Poetry; Ugly Duckling Presse also publishes some of these). Like a lot of Americans, I was intimidated by poetry for a long time because until college, I rarely read it outside of class. But lyric poems actually makes great incidental reading, because they’re usually short and if you have a translation, you don’t have to look up any words. Perfect for the metro! For nonnative speakers of Russian, reading poetry can also help you internalize those tricky word stresses.
I also love teaching (and watching) my favorite movie, Georgii Daneliia’s Mimino.
4. What are you currently working on?
I just finished a draft of a book based on my dissertation, which considers the political role emotion plays in political poetry from the era of Pushkin and the Decembrists. I’ve also started working on a second project about racial and ethnic ambiguity and the myth of the “great Russian poet,” starting with Pushkin. For part of it, I’ve been collaborating with an American historian at Notre Dame, Korey Garibaldi. Despite their storied twentieth-century rivalry, the United States and the Russian Empire (as well as its successor states) have always had so much in common.