Queer Science Fiction in Russian, a Meduza podcast with Hilah Kohen

We are very grateful to Hilah Kohen for investigating and reporting on one of the most fascinating developments in contemporary Russian literature: a few weeks ago, she hosted an episode of Meduza’s The Naked Pravda, where she talked to a writer, an editor, and a scholar about the intriguing place that science fiction–and queer science fiction–play in the contemporary literary landscape in the Russophone world.

We have been following the story of Совсем другие, the anthology under discussion on this podcast, in previous Punctured Lines posts (here and here), and we love seeing this conversation develop further.

LGBTQ activists in the Russophone world face obstacles that many in the Anglophone world do not, but that means they also find ways to survive that defy the imagination. One way queer Russian speakers have found to work through those life-and-death decisions is writing science fiction. Through stories about augmented reality, lesbian seduction in space, sentient plants, and more, activists have offered political commentary on post-Soviet oppression that’s impossible to find in the mainstream opposition.


It is absolutely delightful to hear Syinat Sultanalieva’s voice as she reads from her story Element 174, translated to English by Lesya Myata and Samuel Goff. I loved learning from the podcast that the narrator’s name, Ambassador Jenry, is an homage to Ursula Le Guin’s Genly Ai, the beloved protagonist of The Left Hand of Darkness.

I was also fascinated by the thread of the conversation with Mikhail Suslov, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, that situates this anthology against the socially conservative mainstream of contemporary Russian-language science fiction, and points to the history of how contemporary science fiction diverged from its anti-authoritarian and relatively progressive (anti) Soviet roots.

All of this mind-blowing content–and more!– is packed into 30 minutes of airtime. If you haven’t heard it already, listen to it here, and subscribe to The Naked Pravda. Kevin Rothrock, Meduza’s English-language editor, has been producing lots of creative content here.

Podcast: Olga Zilberbourg in Conversation with Jennifer Eremeeva

Olga Zilberbourg spoke with Jennifer Eremeeva about Like Water and Other Stories (WTAW Press) in a podcast for The New Books Network. It’s a fantastic interview, including about cultural misunderstandings, which starts with Olga reading the inventive and touching “Dandelion” from her collection. Listen to the conversation and follow Jennifer on Twitter @JWEremeeva – we do!

“A new generation of Russian emigres is blessed — or cursed — with the ease of long-haul flights and frequent flyer miles, Skype and FaceTime, Google translate, and regulations that seem anyway to be more forgiving about former citizens traveling to and fro. For them, the border has become far more porous than it ever was, and the choices are now more nuanced. However, there are still plenty of cultural minefields to navigate. To this generation that includes writers as disparate as Gary Shteyngart and Irina Reyn comes Olga Zilberbourg with a new collection of short stories, ‘Like Water and Other Stories.'”


Russian Literature Podcasts, a roundup

I am a recent convert into the world of podcasts. Once I’d heard a few New Yorker Fiction Podcasts (highly recommend) and the Paris Review podcasts and the Kenyon Review podcasts, among others, I started looking for Russian literature podcasts.

Castbox, the app that I use to listen, turned up very little when I searched for “Russian Literature” in English — well, it turns up audio books from War and Peace to Memoirs of a Revolutionist. Russian-language search connected me with Radio Mayak and Evgeniy Stakhovskiy who, on his podcast Chtenie (I’m transliterating Russian titles for this English-language blog) reads short fiction in Russian. Most often, these are works by foreign authors, from O’Henry to Hu Bo to Herta Müller, in Russian translation. Not exactly what I was looking for, but fascinating nevertheless. I’ve become a dedicated listener and am loving this exposure to world literature through the short form.

Of course, I wanted more and reached out to the Russian Literary Twitter community for their recommendations. Michele Berdy of The Moscow Times sent in this list of podcasts:

  • Арзамас — Radio Arzamas provides a seemingly inexhaustible list of cultural topics, only some of which are directly related to literature. Here’s a link to their intro to literary theory.
  • Полка — Polka is a project by literary critics Yuriy Saprykin, Varvara Babitskaya, Lev Oborin, and Polina Ryzhova and defines itself as a podcast about the way literature is connected to life, in its everyday challenges and existential dilemmas. I’m yet to listen, and look forward to it.
  • Ковен дур — Coven dur — starting from the title, this podcast seems to be very much of the contemporary, millennial approach to literature. It’s a podcast by four female authors, Kozinaki, Spashchenko, Stepanova, and Ptiseva who work in the mode of “literary standup.” I haven’t tuned in yet, but am very excited to check it out.
  • Чтение — Chtenie (see my note above).
  • Читатель — Chitatel. This podcast is hosted by Bookmate, an ebook reading app with a subscription service. The host, Pavel Grozny, invites guests from different walks of life (often book industry related) to talk about the books that have changed them. I have listened to a few episodes and have enjoyed them a great deal. This podcast gives me a glimpse into a whole different Russia (Moscow?) that feels open and connected to the global marketplace of ideas and trends. I particularly enjoyed Grozny’s conversation with Sasha Shchadrina, who started a No Kidding feminist reading group and writing seminars Write Like A Grrrl Russia. So inspiring!
  • (Apparently, there was also a Чтец — Chtets podcast, by Radio Mayak, that featured a colloquial reading situation, a host reading a story to a friend in the recording studio. It looks like they no longer record regular episodes. I’ve listened to a few and found them engaging.) (In Russian, chtenie means to read, chitatel is the person who reads, and chets is the same thing except usually it means the person who reads out loud in public settings.)

I’m sure this list is not exhaustive. If you know more Russian lit podcasts, send them my way, and I’ll follow up on this post soon. BTW, anyone wants to start a contemporary post-Soviet lit podcast in English? There seems to be an opportunity out there!