The New Wave of Russian-Jewish Cultural Production

Friday, December 5, 2014
Davis Auditorium (12/4) and 503 Hamilton Hall (12/5)
This conference celebrates the rich and innovative cultural production by Russian-Jewish artists. The conference will open with Readings and Conversation at 6:30 PM on Thursday, December 4. Authors Anya Ulinich and Lara Vapnyar will read from their new novels Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel and The Smell of Pine, in conversation with Anna Katsnelson. (Davis Auditorium,  Schapiro Center. Link for Directions.) Academic panels on Friday, December 5, from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM, will be held in Hamilton Hall 503. This conference focuses on the various modes of artistic composition that Russian-speaking Jewish-Americans have excelled at in the last decade and a half, including art, film, literature, and music. Particular emphasis will be given to the negotiation of genre and geography in this cultural production.

The most recent wave of Russian-speaking Jewish immigration to North America (1970s-1990s) incubated a rich panoply of talented artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers who conveyed cultural capital from the Soviet Union to the West. Contemporary Jewish immigrant writers from the former Soviet republics, including David Bezmozgis, Boris Fishman, Keith and Masha Gessen, Michael Idov, Sana Krasikov, Gary Shteyngart, Anya Ulinich, Lara Vapnyar, and Anya von Bremzen, are upending the definition of Jewish immigrant literature. The writers in this community have produced collectively a wide range of textual creative endeavors: memoirs, short story collections, novels, non-fiction, cookbooks, and finally a graphic novel. These works are innovative in that they are boundary-crossing productions: they display the writers’ transnationalism and multiculturalism in that they take place in Russia, Canada, the U.S., Italy, etc.  While crossing geographical frontiers these authors also traverse multiple textual and visual genres.  Lara Vapnyar’s Broccoli and Other Tales of Love and Food (2008), is both a short story collection and a cookbook. Anya von Bremzen’s memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking (2013) fuses recipes with the more traditional autobiographical genre. Anya Ulinich’s Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel (2014) is a graphic novel where the author displays both artistic background and her mastery of the writer’s craft. David Bezmozgis is both a writer and a filmmaker; he is currently turning his short story collection Natasha (2004) into a movie.

Click here for conference program.

Click here for abstracts of papers.

Organized by Professors Alan Timberlake (Director, East Central European Institute, Columbia University) and Dr. Anna Katsnelson (Medgar Evers College, CUNY).

This project is made possible by the local support of Columbia University's Harriman Institute and East Central European Center.  The organizers are especially grateful for the financial support of COJECO BluePrint Fellowship funded by the UJA-Federation of New York and Genesis Philanthropy Group.

Image from Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich (Penguin, 2014)




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