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Budding Writers Gather in Iowa

Russian teenagers spend two weeks learning the craft of writing at one of Americas best literary arts institutions.

Published: August 14, 2013 (Issue # 1773)



  • Mikhail Zaharov, a 16-year-old from Smolensk, shares his work with his Russian and American counterparts.
    Photo: For SPT

This year, interest on both the American and Russian sides sharply increased from the previous year. Out of more than 40 applicants from an already self-selecting group of Russians ages 16-19 who had to submit work in English and Russian to be considered, 10 were chosen for the all-expenses paid opportunity to travel to the U.S. and spend two weeks focusing on nothing but writing.

Each morning, both English and Russian participants joined in a two-hour seminar in English, this year with American poet Kiki Petrosino. For the second half of the day, they took part in creative workshops held in their native language. Russian students worked with the award-winning novelist Alan Cherchesov, a writer-in-residence at the Iowa Writers Workshop. In addition to working on poetry and fiction in both languages, the participants also had the opportunity to attend guest lectures on playwriting, contemporary Russian poetry and the international novel.

Cherchesov, who visited Iowa in 2008 as part of the delegation of Russian writers participating in an Open Society Foundation program, as well as a 2010 writer-in-residence at IWP, was invited by the University of Iowas International Writers Program director Christopher Merrill to participate in the BTL program.

Its a unique chance to understand oneself better, and both the country that invited you and the one you represent, said Cherchesov. The famous American saying about the fish that only understands what water is when its taken out of it is more fitting than anything else.

The results of two weeks of work for the young program participants will extend, I believe, to a much longer period. Possibly for their whole lives. They will henceforth look at the world through different eyes, because their inner world has become markedly different.

Its also, Cherchesov commented, not by chance that the quality of the students work had improved noticeably by the end of their session at Iowa.

The U.S. and Russian participants lived, ate, and attended classes together, so they created strong bonds and could talk about writing at any moment, said Morse.

Zaharov said one of the most moving moments of the trip was when Russian and American participants united in a khorovod, an ancient Slavic ritual of joining in a circle of dance and song, at an organic farm near Iowa City. Were all humans after all, I thought, with flaws and strengths, and there is so much beauty in this paradox, he said, reflecting on that moment. We were not supposed to be there Putins policy obviously says no to the collaboration and yet here we are, like theres nothing wrong, like there have never been any disputes, like weve never been enemies.

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Thursday, Apr. 24


Learn more about Denmark during the Danish Business Delegations visit to SPIBA this evening starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Danish Culture Institute. Danish Consul general Klaus Sorensen will be in attendance and the buffet following a presentation on Danish companies in Russia will be the perfect opportunity to network with the assembled businessmen.


AmChams Human Resources Committee Meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. this morning in their St. Petersburg office. Check their website for more details.



Friday, Apr. 25


Light Music presents the main events for their Cultural Kitchen project at Loft-Project Etagi today. A B2B event that focuses on Finnish food, arts, travel, music and design, the evening will conclude with a dinner by chef Jyrki Tsutsunen and dancing to music by Aino Venna. The event, which began yesterday with presentations by tourism and cultural institutions, concludes today with a preview of Finlands Flow festival and other musical events. Invitations are available from www.culturalkitchen.fi.



Saturday, Apr. 26


At 6 p.m. this evening, stylist Liliana Modigliani offers 50 simple ways to up your style quotient with beauty tips at the Galeria shopping center on Ligovsky Prospekt. The event is part of the final day of the shopping malls Fashion Saturday sales event, this week focusing on top brands located on the ground floor as well as presentation from fashion experts on sprucing up your spring look.



Sunday, Apr. 27


Families shouldnt miss Childhood Planet 2014, the trade fair that started yesterday and concludes today at LenExpo. Not only will goods and services be provided for children and families but the event hopes to promote Russian brands and eco-friendly products using the latest technology available in the childcare industry.



Monday, Apr. 28


The Hotel Indigo will be the site of SPIBAs Acting Skills for HR and Other Managers master class this morning starting at 9 a.m. The event will begin with coffee before moving on to the class itself and conclude with a tour of the recently opened hotel. Confirm attendance by Apr. 24.



Tuesday, Apr. 29


Improve your English at the British Book Centers Interactive English Lesson tonight at 6 p.m. Students at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are welcome discuss topics that are selected to help learners master the more difficult aspects of English grammar and vocabulary.