James McGavran

Associate Professor of Russian, Kenyon College

1. Why did you choose Russian culture for your profession?
I fell in love with the literature as an undergraduate, pretty much as soon as I read my first poems and stories in the original. Getting into Princeton's graduate program was certainly a pivotal moment in my life; for a while I stubbornly and shortsightedly resisted the idea of a traditional academic career, but the decision to devote myself to the study of Russian literature (esp. poetry) was essentially made.
 2. What was your brightest recollection from your graduate student’s years?
There were so many! I would highlight studying Futurism with Olga Hasty (and Mark Pettus, Yuri Corrigan and I painting our faces before one seminar), Pushkin and Symbolism with Michael Wachtel, and Tolstoy and Bakhtin with Caryl Emerson. I also fondly remember a "Kreutzer Sonata" event I was lucky enough to take part in. And of course milestones like passing generals and finishing my dissertation were also pretty memorable.
 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? An impossible question, because that one magic text is going to be something different for everyone. I'll name a few works of various genres, eras, and styles: Pushkin's "The Bronze Horseman," Bely's "Petersburg," Gogol's "The Overcoat," Tsvetaeva's "Новогоднее", Ven. Erofeev's "Moskva-Petushki." I think if a person hates all of those, Russian literature may not be their cup of tea.

 4. What are you currently working on?
Translations of Osip Mandelstam's six longest and most complex poems, with line-by-line commentary and visual aids.