Nobel Prize Through the Prism of Russian Writers

Nobel Prize Through the Prism of Russian Writers

Dr. Natasha Kolchevska, UNM
January 8, 2017

What does it take to win the Nobel prize in literature —does it matter if you write fiction, poetry or non-fiction–or some combination of the above? Do you take daring political risk or does it suffice to be an exceptional writer? Is it better to have the support of the establishment or express your principled opposition to it? To have a body of formally innovative work or write in a more traditional vein? To have a career of justified fame or unjustified obscurity? When the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, the Swedish Academy originally favored conservatives such as Rudyard Kipling, while snubbing Leo Tolstoy and Emile Zola. During World War I, several prizes went to Scandinavians as the academy sought to avoid the appearance of taking sides with fighting countries. In the 1930s, the initial criterion of “ideal direction” was reinterpreted as “universal interest,” with popular authors such as Pearl Buck and Sinclair Lewis among the beneficiaries. In recent years, the Academy has become increasingly open to non-traditional genres–e.g. the largely journalistic work of Svetlana Aleksievich in 2015 and of course, the bard and pop culture hero Bob Dylan in 2016–but there is a long history of extra-literary considerations in the selection of awardees. We will examine the story behind the Nobel Prize in Literature by looking at the Russian/Soviet awardees over the last 70 years.

Dr. Natasha Kolchevska is Professor of Russian, Emerita, UNM’s first Associate Provost for International Initiatives, and past Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at UNM. She was a faculty member at the University of New Mexico from 1977 until her recent retirement. Dr. Kolchevska received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and wrote her dissertation on post-revolutionary developments in Russian Futurist cinema and literature.A specialist in 20th century Russian culture, Dr. Kolchevska has taught and lectured on a wide range of courses on Russian language, literature and culture, including Russian film and culture, history and identity through film, the immigrant experience, and prison literature. Her research interests include literary translation, 20th century fiction, post-Soviet culture, women’s culture, and undergraduate education. The Modern Language Association has published her translation and annotation of the 19th century novel Nihilist Girl, by S. Kovalevskaia. In the mid 2000’s, she served as President of American Women in Slavic Studies.

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