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This International Women’s Day, here are eight Russian women writers you should know

Source: Meduza

Galina Rymbu

“o, Lesbia, our time lies snuggled up in a coffin...”

Galina Rymbu writes unabashedly and politically about the current moment. She is known for bringing feminist and new leftist thought to life in poems that are both relatable and formally stunning (in all senses of the word). Trained as a critic and political philosopher, Rymbu is also an editor and an active advocate for new literature. Thanks to translator Joan Brooks, her work is on the rise in English as well as Russian.

Selected works and interviews in English:

Quote translated by Joan Brooks.

Alisa Ganieva

Erik Prozes / Scanpix / LETA

“She was trying to stand up, but the armchair seemed to be chewing her up in its leather maw.”

From the moment Alisa Ganieva released her debut book at the age of 25, she started proving her fans right and her critics wrong. As the first writer from the North Caucasian region of Dagestan to gain international attention, Ganieva faced double binds that will sound familiar to writers of color in the Anglophone world: some critics were skeptical of her youth, others of the importance of her early fiction about her home region, and still others of her credibility in writing fiction that is not about Dagestan. Nonetheless, in the first ten-odd years of her career, Ganieva has both expanded the capacity of the Russian language in her prose and used her public platform as an author to advocate for important political causes. While Carol Apollonio has ensured that Ganieva already has a sizeable English-language audience, recent attention in forums like the LA Review of Books and the BBC might expand that audience even further. So might Ganieva’s latest novel, which brings Dostoevskian small-town drama to the present day.

Selected works and interviews in English:

Quote from Offended Sensibilities translated by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler.

Anna Starobinets

Masha Kushnir for Meduza

“I’m waiting for mercy. It should be here any minute now.”

When readers compare Anna Starobinets to English-language writers, the first name that comes up is almost always Stephen King. Horror fans brought Starobinets to fame in Russian, but her writing doesn’t stop there: she is also a popular author of speculative fiction for children. In the last year, a BBC interview and a new series of translations have made it increasingly likely that Anglophone readers will choose to experience the extraordinary angle Starobinets brings to contemporary fiction.

Selected works and interviews in English:

  • The Mercy Bus,” translated by Mary C. Gannon, in Moscow Noir, edited by Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen. Akashic Books, 2010.
  • Beastly Crimes series, translated by Jane Bugaeva. Dover, 2018-2019.
  • Anna Starobinets,” interview with Natalia Golysheva. BBC World Service, February 2019.
  • An Awkward Age, translated by Hugh Aplin. Hesperus Press, 2011.
  • The Icarus Gland and Other Stories, translated by James Rann. Skyscraper Publications, 2014.
  • Catlantis, translated by Jane Bugaeva and illustrated by Andrzej Klimowski. New York Review Books, 2016.
  • The Living, translated by James Rann. Hesperus Press, 2012.

Quote from “The Mercy Bus” translated by Mary C. Gannon.

Nariné Abgaryan

“The world is small, and we are big. It’s only out of naïveté and stupidity that we think for our entire lives it’s the other way around.”

Don’t let the minimal English-language coverage of Nariné Abgaryan’s career fool you. The Armenian prose writer and nonprofit advocate has managed to become a literary star in a language (Russian) and a city (Moscow) that typically does not put Armenian small-town life, her preferred subject, at center stage. While her newer writings for adults have been slightly less wildly popular than the beloved children’s series that launched her career, Abgaryan’s work conveys a deep belief in the resilience of humanity without glossing over the horrors of human conflict. It’s only a matter of time before her work hits the shelves in English to inspire adults and children both.

Selected coverage in English:

Quote from Three Apples Fell from the Sky translated by the author of this piece.

Linor Goralik

PhotoXPress

“The war lasted eight days; they won. His dog was the only fatality. It was ridiculous.”

In terms of form, Goralik is likely the most cutting-edge writer on this list. The Russian-Israeli programmer and marketing agent writes online flash fiction, essays, and satirical comics featuring Bunnypuss, an adorable two-dimensional hare whose adventures are not at all safe for work. In 2017, a group of U.S.-based translators jump-started Goralik’s reception in English with a new collection of her innovative writings and digital art, and her events in Russia are consistently packed.

Selected works and interviews in English:

Quote from “Some Very Short Stories”; English original.

Maria Stepanova

Александр Щербак / Коммерсантъ

“And once they’ve torn off the lock, a crowd of souls will pour

into our nostrils, mouths and ears...”

In the course of the last two decades, Maria Stepanova’s formal skill and her manipulation of memory and space have made her a legend of contemporary Russian-language poetry. While every writer on this list can be considered established, the critical recognition Stepanova has received allows her to fill a different kind of niche. Now that the poet has also published a widely acclaimed novel titled Post-Memory that is drawing comparisons to W.G. Sebald, the time could be ripe for her readership in English to expand.

Selected works and interviews in English:

Quote from “The Womens Changing Room at Planet Fitness” translated by Sibelian Forrester.

Alexandra Petrova

The University of Iowa

“Space is slowly squeezing itself into a cone.

A racing electron stumbles.”

Like Stepanova, Alexandra Petrova is a poet-turned-prose writer. However, her writing taps into an understanding of international movement that is rare even in the increasingly global field of Russian-language literature. Petrova’s first novel, Appendix, draws on the author’s experience living long-term in four different countries, including Israel and Italy. Her current home city, Rome, seems to become a ninth main character as the eight-voiced novel grapples with questions of gender, migration, and empire. Petrova’s recent visits to the United States have pointed to a growing interest in her work in academic circles that might spill over to a broader readership.

Selected works and interviews in English:

Quote from “The Ministry of Hot Water” translated by Stephanie Sandler.

Guzel Yakhina

Yuri Smityuk / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

“She thought she was seeing life. It would later turn out she was seeing death.”

Here at Meduza in English, we recently described Yakhina’s debut novel, originally titled Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, as “one of the biggest runaway bestsellers in recent Russian literature.” The novel has such broad appeal in large part because it’s bread-and-butter historical fiction, but it describes a moment in history that few Russian- or English-speaking readers know much about. Based on the experiences of the author’s grandmother, Zuleikha tells the fictional story of a young Tatar woman who fights to survive displacement under the Stalin regime. Lisa C. Hayden’s English translation of the novel, which is due to be released this spring, has inspired a good deal of buzz among fans of Russian literature and historical fiction alike.

Selected works and coverage in English:

Quote from Zuleikha translated by Lisa C. Hayden.

Hilah Kohen