1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I took Russian to start with simply because I wanted to read Russian novels in the original, but I thought I would major in politics or history. But I ended up taking Soviet Politics and Russian history, and the more Russian courses I took, the more I loved what I was doing. So it sort of just happened.
2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
I can’t choose one, so here are a few. Joining in an overnight sit-in in Nassau Hall in 1972 to protest the war in Vietnam. Walking back from the Princeton Inn from having seen my first Bergman film and seeing snow fall on that incredibly beautiful campus. Going into New York City with friends to ride the Staten Island Ferry, and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.
3. Which literary work (or any work of art) would you recommend to a newcomer who is interested in Russia, as one of the keys to Russian culture?
War and Peace, without question. But if film is a better gateway, then Tarkovsky’s great film Andrei Rublev. And if it’s poetry, read Mandelstam or Brodsky or Tsvetaeva.
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
I became a professor of Russian literature and culture. No one in my family could believe it when I went to graduate school. I am first-generation college educated, and it’s a testimony to my parents’ wisdom and love that they supported my decision to do this unimaginable thing.
5. What are you currently working on?
I am writing about contemporary Russian poetry.
6. Are there any other comments that you'd like to add?
My remarkable teachers – Evgenia Tucker, Veronika Dolenko, and later Charles Townsend -- would be the first to tell you that I wasn’t very good at Russian at first. Russian didn’t come easy to me, and it might just be my stubbornness that kept me at it. But I loved the puzzles of the language from the start, the lightbulb moments when I “got it,” and I love the literature that it opened out before me.