Book Prize Winners for 2014


Katia Dianina, When Art Makes News: Writing Culture and Identity in Imperial Russia.

Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2013.

When Art Makes News: Writing Culture and Identity in Imperial Russia by Katia Dianina presents an untold story of the development of art as institutions and as a medium for imagining Russian national identity in the second half of the nineteenth century. Thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, this study makes a crucial contribution to the burgeoning field of Russian nationalism studies as well as to cultural studies of late imperial Russia in general. It traces the roots of Russia’s fascination with the notion of “culture,” the origins of the concept of “Russian style” and its mutations, the institutionalization of such cultural forms as public exhibition and museum, and the development of discourse on art in the popular press. Dianina’s dual focus on “visual display and popular journalism” as partaking in the creation of a new “shared discourse on cultural self-representation” allows her to argue about a fundamentally discursive nature of the fascination with the national in arts. “Written commentary,” she concludes, “fully shares in the responsibility of creating a national idiom in the arts in all its multiple manifestations.” When Art Makes News presents “Russia’s decades-long quest for viable expression of national distinction” as a manifestation of increased cultural self-awareness and as a source of perpetual doubt about the “authenticity” of created cultural products.


Sophia Lubensky, Russian-English Dictionary of Idioms. Revised Edition.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

While the Russian-English Dictionary of Idioms is (obviously) not a textbook, since its original publication by Random House in 1995, it has become an indispensible handbook for “students” of Russian understood in the broadest sense – from instructors and students in the classroom to readers and translators in the field. Reviewers of the first edition marveled at the volume’s transparent organization; the clarity and thoroughness of the linguistic information accompanying each entry; the inclusion of modern literary texts in its examples of usage (i.e. not only Pushkin!); the richness of the translations of Russian idioms into English; its excellent index; and finally, the sheer scope of the work, covering 13,000 idioms.

Eighteen years later, Lubensky has accomplished a feat all too rare: she has improved upon her own classic. Published by Yale University Press, the second edition expands coverage to nearly 14,000 idioms. (The number of new entries, however, is actually greater; the introduction notes that some entries from the original edition were removed to make room for the new.) In addition to the features recognized by reviewers of the original edition, prize committee members were also impressed with the range of experts Lubensky consulted for her revised edition, as well as with the rich bibliography, itself an introduction to and a model for those interested in lexicography and the production of such reference works.

As we award the 2014 AATSEEL Pedagogy Prize to Professor Lubensky, the committee would also like to acknowledge her more formal contributions to pedagogy over her productive scholarly career, highlights of which include the textbooks Nachalo (with Gerard Ervin et al.; McGraw Hill, 1995, 2002), and more recently, Ot teksta k rechi. Advanced Russian: From Reading to Speaking (with Irina Odintsova; Slavica, 2011).


Daniil Kharms, "I am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary": The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms.

Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2013. Selected, Translated and Edited by Anthony Anemone and Peter Scotto.

The playfulness and wiles of Daniil Kharms meet the adventuresome spirit of Anthony Anemone and Peter Scotto, who have selected, translated and edited Kharms's notebooks, diaries and letters to create a most unusual volume—part historical document and part story from the inside of a life—that breathes Kharms on every page. The translators frame their project by arguing that Kharms is one of those “writers whose ‘inner’ life and ‘outer’ work are so intimately connected that without knowing their lives, it is not possible to comprehend their work in full.” Working with thirty-eight surviving notebooks and a diary, Anemone and Scotto see his notebooks as a mapping of the topography of Kharms' mind; their selection gives us the man. They have included notes Kharms jotted while on trams, during concerts, and with friends. We are treated to what Kharms read, his chess problems, shopping lists, magical spells, sexual musings, quirky ditties, and rough drafts of his poems. Scotto and Anemone also provide the reader with an introductory essay, a chronology of Kharms' life, a commentary of theirs that runs along in parallel to his writings, and a glossary of names, places, institutions and concepts. Through these pages we see his relationships unfold with the women in his life and with his friends and colleagues, major figures of the era: Zabolotsky, Vvedensky, Druskin, Mayakovsky, Malevich, Vaginov, and many, many more. Of particular value is the epilogue the translators provide which traces his arrest by the NKVD and last months before his untimely death in a Leningrad asylum in 1942 when he was barely 36 years old. In I Am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary: The Notebooks, Diaries, and Letters of Daniil Kharms, Anthony Anemone and Peter Scotto bring us a glimpse into Kharms' creative laboratory, follow his development as a writer, and watch his tragic trajectory, an invaluable contribution to the study of twentieth century Russian literature.


Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp, The Russian Folktale.

Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2012. Edited and translated from the Russian by Sibelan Forrester.

Vladimir Propp is best known as the author of The Morphology of the Folktale, and to Slavists he may also be familiar for his Historical Roots of the Wonder Tale. This new volume, deriving from Propp’s late lectures, substantially enriches our understanding of the folktale itself, the development and potentials of structuralist method, the variety of humanistic approaches during the Soviet years, and the contours of Propp’s own thought. In Sibelan Forrester’s judicious and elegant translation, Propp appears with both his strengths and his limitations, not as the paradigm case of proto-structuralism or of Soviet cultural scholarship, but as a fertile mind meticulously engaging with the sources and the theoretical paradigms available to him. Forrester’s accessible and insightful foreword and introduction furnish an intellectual background that enhances the experience of reading Propp. Readers interested in the intellectual life of the Soviet Union and the trajectories of formalist, structuralist, humanist, and Marxist thought will find Forrester’s edition exceptionally valuable.