Russians in America: The Third Wave

A Timeline of Events


In 1956 then Premier and General Secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, delivered a speech at the Twentieth Party Congress that for some indicated a "Thaw" (Оттепель) in the political and cultural arena. Certain themes and writers previously deemed unacceptable began to emerge. There was the publication inside the Soviet Union of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Один день Ивана Денисовича, 1962). But the freedom was far from absolute or even far-reaching. The publication in the West in translation and then in Russian of Boris Pasternak's (he won the Nobel Prize in 1958) novel Doctor Zhivago (Доктор Живаго) in 1956 signaled a different new era. In 1965-1966 Andrei Sinyavsky (Андрей Синявский) and Yuli Daniel (Юлий Даниэль) were convicted and sentenced to seven and five years respectively for their writings. In 1966 Valery Tarsis (Валерий Тарсис) was permitted to leave the Soviet Union and was deprived of his citizenship. In 1969 Anatoly Kuznetsov (Анатолий Кузнецов) defected to the West and published Babi Yar (Бабий Яр). There was also throughout the 1960s an emergent underground Russian literature, manuscripts circulated from hand to hand in the Soviet Union known as "'samizdat" (самиздат).This literature too made its ways to the West and was published in journals, such as Grani (Грани) and Posev (Посев) and then re-introduced into Russia. As these documents were smuggled back into the Soviet Union and new publishing houses arose in the 1970s, the concept of "tamizdat" (тамиздат) came to signify Russian literature published in the West. Over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, literally hundreds of works would make their way to the west, among them Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novels, (Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970 while still living in the Soviet Union). Many were published and then sent back in miniature versions and small quantities to Russia. Russian writers abroad knew no boundaries and enjoyed the publishing opportunities present in Jerusalem, Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, Ann Arbor, etc. Thus the geographical distinction or identification of writers as American is at best artificial. I have, nonetheless, begun this project by limiting my efforts to those Russian writers who actually lived and wrote in the United States during the period 1970 to 1986. For a more political view of a timeline see the one prepared for Radio Liberty by the Hoover Institution.


The Third Wave in the US

Ardis is founded.

In June Joseph Brodsky (Иосиф Бродский) comes to Michigan.

Eduard Limonov (Эдуард Лимонов) deprived of his citizenship settles in New York.
Solzhenitsyn is expelled. He settles in Vermont, USA in 1976.

Sasha Sokolov (Саша Соколов) is permitted to leave and in 1976 he comes to settle in Vermont.

Sergei Dovlatov (Сергей Довлатов) arrives in New York.

Publishing of Metropol. (Метрополь)

Vasily Aksyonov (Василий Аксенов) in US decides not to return and is stripped of Soviet citizenship.

The newspapers, Novyj Amerikanets (Новый Американец) and Novaja Gazeta (Новая Газета) begin publishing in New York. Conference in California on Third Wave.

1982 Conference in Boston on Writers in Exile sponsored by the Partisan Review, reported on in Новый Американец, 117 (May 11, 1982), 3.

Brodsky and Aksyonov are published in Russia.

The Early 1970s

An author such as Solzhenitsyn enjoyed great popularity in the atmosphere of the Cold War. Consequently his books found ready and willing translators and publishers. Such was not the case for many other talented yet largely unknown writers. Perhaps the most important contribution to keeping Russian literature not approved by Soviet authorities alive was the work of Carl and Ellendea Proffer through their Russian Literary Triquarterly and Ardis, their own publishing house. Ardis published the poems of Brodsky and translations of Sasha Sokolov (Саша Соколов) and others. Writers inside Russia and scores of aspiring translators looked to Carl Proffer to bring their works to light. The Proffers' efforts were extraordinary. In the first part of the decade most writers had their works carried abroad for publication. When emigration became a reality writers brought their works along, or recreated and created new ones in exile for publication in Russian and in some cases for translation into English. Ardis which for a few years had been a safe haven for such writers finally offended the Soviet authorities by publishing Metropol', a literary almanac by Russian writers who chose to defy censorship and publish their works inside the Soviet Union.

The 1980s

A critical mass of writers and readers and funding from a variety of sources gave rise in the United States to new publishing ventures and venues. The newspaper Novyi Amerikanets (Новый Американец), with key involvement by Sergei Dovlatov (Сергей Довлатов), Aleksandr Genis (Александр Генис) and Petr Vail' (Петр Вайль) published from 1981-1985, was a major competitor to the established Novoe Russkoe Slovo (Новое Русское Слово). Novaja Gazeta (Новая Газета) headed by Evgeny Rubin (Евгений Рубин) began as a weekly and competed head to head with Novyj Amerikanets. For a brief period it appeared as a daily in direct competition with the long established Novoe Russkoe Slovo. In Los Angeles the weekly Panorama (Панорама) began to appear and it continues until today. Aleksandr Glezer published the journal Strelets (Стрелец) and headed the publishing venture called Tret'ja volna (Третья волна). Igor Efimov (Игорь Ефимов) who had been an active participant in the Leningrad literary underground before coming to the United Stares and working for Ardis formed his own Hermitage (Эрмитаж) publishers. And the writers felt no boundaries, finding ways to publish to Europe and in Israel as well as in the United States. A major conference on The Third Wave was held in California in 1981. The proceedings were published. Joseph Brodsky, a Russian poet in exile, was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1987. Yet in spite of the limelight, the period and its writers, were overshadowed by subsequent political events, the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, the emergence of freedom of expression (glasnost'-гласность) in the Soviet Union, and ultimately the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Legacy

With the changes brought on by Mikhail Gorbachev, the well-known "perestroika" and "glasnost'," Russian writers were more frequently published in official Soviet, and later Russian, sources. Some returned for brief visits, some returned for good, others were permitted to travel freely abroad and the world changed. The fall of the Iron Curtain has relegated many of the restrictions on personal freedoms of expression and movement as historical footnotes to the Twentieth Century. But where have all the writings gone? Most of the books can be found, and many are being reprinted inside Russia. The periodical literature to be sure exists, but almost always with lacunae, in several major collections, The New York Public Library, Harvard University, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Yale University. An excellent collection, in particular of the European resources, can be found at the Forschungsstelle Osteuropa at the University of Bremen in Germany. And inside Russia itself materials are actively being gathered by libraries, institutes and electronic databases.

Serious gaps, however, do exist. In publicly available collections or microfilms there is no single complete run of Novyi Amerikanec or of Novaja Gazeta. Countless oral interviews for radio as well as video appearances or video interviews were done, but with the exception of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty archives now at the Hoover Institute in Stanford, there is no one guide to locate what was done, and where these materials exits. Libraries were late to enter the age where non-print materials were systematically identified and collected. Scholars, American Slavists have largely ignored the period. Some might argue that the literary legacy of "The Third Wave" did not earn such scrutiny. That statement ignores the fact that Russian literature in the 1970s and 1980s as we know it today survived primarily outside the borders of Russia. Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky received Nobel prizes in literature. Aksyonov (Аксёнов), Yuz Aleshkovski (Юз Алешковский), Sergei Dovlatov (Сергей Довлатов), Eduard Limonov (Эдуард Лимонов), and Sasha Sokolov (Саша Соколов), to name a handful, all lived, wrote and published extensively in the United States at that time. The Internet offers multiple, and ever-changing links to themes, writers, texts, images, audio and video collections. Yet the identification, verification, organization, and presentation of that material are constantly changing, and even so exceed one person's ability to master, let alone track it. My own modest contribution is intended to signal that the study of "The Third Wave" has barely begun!

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