The topic of social change, so prominent within New Drama and contemporary poetry and film, forms the touchstone of my contemporary Russian literature syllabus, which introduces students to writers such as Zakhar Prilepin, Roman Senchin, Viktor Pelevin, and Tatiana Tolstaya. I like to show the stepping stones from earlier literature to contemporary literature by explaining the shifting rules of censorship during the Thaw after Khrushev initiated a critique of Stalin. After 1968, censorship flexed its muscle again and culture went underground. Bard poetry and lyrics of underground rock music are examples of culture from the periphery that were catalysts for social and political change in the 1980s.
My modern literature survey courses include sections that look at canonical Russian literature through the lens of body, gender, and identity. From Alexandra Kollontai’s autobiographies and political legislation about equity, to Svetlana Alexievich’s oral histories of female veterans, to Alisa Ganieva’s travel literature written in post-Soviet Caucasus, to late-Soviet drama, where there are messages about different kinds of feminisms, utopian gender equality in socialism, and queer communities. Following my long-standing interests in documentary and realism genres, I am focusing on Alexievich’s books in my second major writing project.
“How do Chekhov’s Plays Work?” lecture
Experiential Learning in the Russian Language Classroom
Assignments that start in my classroom can take on lives outside the classroom in the form of publications of students’ translations. Students see that skills they learn in class can help them in the professional world. I teach material from Princeton’s digital archive Playing Soviet: The Visual Languages of Early Soviet Children’s Books in my culture courses, thanks to translations of some of the stories that my language students have done. For another translation – a dictionary-catalogue (2015), И-Искусство; Ф-феминизм: Актуальный словарь – advanced Russian language students used their skills to translate gender terms, described in Russian in layman’s terms (this project is under construction for Apparatus: Film, Media, and Digital Cultures in Central and East Europe).
Authentic texts of Russian dramas are helpful to use in language pedagogy. The most significant improvement as a result of using theatre in the language classroom is improved pronunciation, in speaking with more ease and confidence, with frequently correct emphasis on stressed syllables in words, and with a wider range of vocabulary use (S. Weygandt, “Ludic Acts of Language Acquisition: Role, Dialogue, and Stage for L2 Russian Oral Proficiency.” In Teaching of Russian: Gamification of Learning, 2022). In an intensive Beginner’s Russian course at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, students at the end of the course performed an abridged version of Onward…Onwards…Onwards / Дальше…Дальше…Дальше (1986, Mikhail Shatrov). Stalin comes back to life and is tried by his victims. The text of the play, however, is based on archive material and minutes of meeting between Lenin, Stalin, and members of the Central Committee of the USSR. Each student had a role and memorized their lines.