Writers' Communities and Retreats of the Soviet Era in Russian Literature

McEleney, Sarah, Slavic Languages and Literatures - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clowes, Edith, Slavic Languages and Literatures, The University of Virginia
Tolczyk, Dariusz, Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Dianina, Katia, Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, English, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the role of Soviet-era writers’ communities and official retreats in the history of 20th century Russian literature. While writers’ and artists’ colonies have an important place in Western cultural history, their Soviet counterparts are remarkable with regard to the ideological dissonance and multiple styles of literary creation that were a part of the history of these spaces. The major Soviet literary organization, The Soviet Writers’ Union, and its allied organization, the Litfond, oversaw the creation and funding of communities and vacation retreats for writers, that were dispensed as special perks for members. These establishments, known officially as Writers’ Houses of Creativity, could be found outside of major cities, as well as in areas historically tied to Russian and Soviet tourism.

While Soviet-era writers’ communities and retreats are unique in that they were linked to the dominant system of Soviet socialist realist literary creation in the Soviet Union, as well as the system of rewards for ideologically compliant writers, they also held cultural elements that connected them to pre-Soviet literature and culture. The writers’ retreat in Koktebel, Crimea, which was a revered destination for Soviet writers, had been the site of Maksimilian Voloshin’s home and literary salon, which was an important location in the history of Russian modernism and symbolism, prior to its incorporation into the Soviet Litfond. Several Litfond writers’ communities were also home to the dachas of prominent modernist writers who forged ties with the upcoming literary generation of the 1950s and 1960s. Anna Akhmatova’s and Boris Pasternak’s dachas in Komarovo and Peredelkino, respectively, were important meeting places in this vein, and these locations were later celebrated for their associations with these two influential writers.

Soviet writers’ retreats also served as places where the beginnings of quasi-dissident literature emerged and where writers could negotiate the boundaries of acceptability during the relatively less censorious Khrushchev Thaw era. Multiple works by 1960s writer Vasily Aksyonov particularly demonstrate how these places served as communities where quasi-dissident, or at least somewhat independent, literary culture flourished, despite these being official, state-funded residential settings. This dissertation considers the multiple ideological layers of the creative culture in Soviet-era writers’ retreats and communities, and the links that these places held with the artistic and literary culture of the pre-revolutionary Russian world, shedding new light on the history of creative community during the Soviet period.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
writers' colonies, Russian literary history
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