1. Why did you choose Russian culture for your profession?
A semester abroad in St. Petersburg turned into a several years of odd jobs in Russia, which left me in my mid-twenties wondering how to get back to the West. And then I discovered that PhD programs paid you (and not you them) to read books – including Russian ones – and to go to classes and come up with ideas and write about them. I remember looking at the Princeton Slavic department website at an internet café and breaking out into a nervous sweat. That was probably the moment.
2. What was your brightest recollection from your graduate student’s years?
Summers of funded study in Poland were paradise. Futurism with Olga Hasty. Pushkin with Michael Wachtel. Chekhov with Ellen Chances. Russian Religious Thought with Caryl Emerson and Ksana Blank. Evenings with the other graduate students at Jamie McGavran’s room at the Old GC discussing either literature, philosophy, or our own unhappiness. It turns out I was happy but didn’t know it.
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?
I don’t have an original answer to this question. In my 19th-century survey, we spend the first few weeks with Pushkin’s Belkin Tales and Gogol’s Petersburg Tales. Feels like it works, so I haven’t tried to fix it.
4. What are you currently working on?
A Russian literary history of the concept of “soul.”