Teresa Redd, Class of 1976


1. Why did you choose Russian culture as your major?
I chose Russian culture as my major because it was so different from my own.  Since I am an African American, the difference could not be more stark.  At the time I had heard of only one other African American who had studied Russian (Condoleeza Rice), so studying Russian made me different too.  Indeed, that difference led me to investigate lesser-known subjects, for instance, the Soviet scheme to establish a Black nation in the U.S. South as well as the cultural identity development of Uzbek children in Soviet Central Asia.  As a member of a racial minority in the U.S., I believed I could bring a unique perspective to such research.
As my research suggests, I not only majored in Slavic Languages & Literatures, but also earned an interdisciplinary Certificate in Russian Studies because I was fascinated by the difference between the U.S. and Soviet societies in the midst of the Cold War. I also believed that people-to-people relationships could bridge the divide. 

2. What is your most vivid memory of your college years?
        What I remember best is the semester I spent at the University of Leningrad in 1974:

  • gazing across the Neva River at the Hermitage from my dorm window
  • cowering as “babushki” admonished me for not wearing a hat in the winter cold
  • admiring the gold cupolas of Orthodox churches and the ornate rooms of tsarist palaces
  • seeing EVERYWHERE bright red banners and posters with Communist party slogans and images
  • collecting decorative pins (“znachki”) given in a gesture of friendship by Young Pioneers
  • delighting in the ballet at the Kirov Theatre, where two Russians mistook me for Angela Davis!

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?
Although I loved reading Dostoyevsky’s soul-stirring novels, I would recommend Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to a newcomer.  Chekhov was a master of capturing both the humor and pathos in the lives of ordinary Russians. “Life must be exactly as it is, and people as they are—not on stilts,” Chekhov explained.  “Let everything on the stage be just as complicated, and at the same time just as simple as it is in life.”
4. Which career path did you choose, and why?
When I arrived at Princeton, I planned to pursue a career in the Foreign Service.  However, after spending a semester abroad, I realized that I did not want to be stationed abroad for a year or more, so I decided to work as a writer-editor for Time-Life Books.  Working for a corporation did not fulfill me, though: I wanted to do something that would directly benefit people, especially the African American community, so I decided to teach writing at a historically Black university.  To do so, I enrolled in graduate school, where I studied literature, linguistics, rhetoric, and education.  Eventually, I launched my career at Howard University, first, as an English professor and, later, as the founding director of a center for faculty development.  Yet I never abandoned my first love: language.  
5. What are you currently working on?
After nearly 33 years at Howard, I retired, but I did not stop working. I set up a small consulting business in Annapolis so that I could work part-time teaching faculty workshops, developing writing-intensive curricula, and advising directors of faculty development or writing programs.  I also work as a volunteer for my church and for a local shelter, where I teach or tutor in a job skills program.  I have even found a way to put my knowledge of Russian to good use:  After discovering that Leningrad Oblast was a sister-state of Maryland, I joined a committee that hosts visiting Leningrad delegates who come to learn about local leadership via COIL (formerly known as “Open World”), a program sponsored by the Library of Congress.  My delegate was so relieved when she discovered that I could speak Russian that her gratitude alone made my years of study worthwhile. 
6. Are there any other comments that you’d like to add?
You never know when your Russian studies will come in handy.  Although I earned my M.A. in English and my Ph.D. in Education, I have used my knowledge of Russian off and on over the years, first, as a writer-editor for Time-Life Books when the Books division was working on its WWII series: I not only wrote essays about Russia’s role in WWII, but also translated photo captions and excerpts from Russian memoirs.  Later, as an English professor and faculty development director at Howard, I greeted Russian-speaking visitors a few times.  Surprisingly, since retiring, I have used my Russian more often since I have started hosting delegates from Leningrad.  So you never know!