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My dissertation focuses on Elena Shvarts (1948-2010), a Russian-language poet of the “unofficial” culture that flourished alongside state-sponsored arts in the post-war USSR. I ask how Shvarts became a leading talent of her generation in 1960s-1970s Leningrad, producing a substantial and sophisticated body of work without access to traditional print audiences. Studying Shvarts’s strategies for self-realization enhances our understanding of the forces that shaped late Soviet literature and the cultural field of dissidence from within and without. I trace her formation and rise to recognition, interweaving discussions of the political, literary, and social environment of her youth and early adulthood with close interpretative readings of poems and declarative statements.

I apply a Foucauldian lens to the literary environment in which Shvarts came of age, presenting its formal, informal, and “public-private” institutions as a heterotopian network. Highlighting the relevance of the spoken word to the milieu, I argue that readerships for samizdat (self-published) literary periodicals were created and sustained by poetry readings, seminars, café culture, and other platforms for “oral publication.” Concepts from scholarship on European pre-print culture illuminate curation practices that ensured the survival of these ephemeral texts.

Chapter One describes Shvarts’s origins and arrival on the local cultural scene, drawing on her girlhood diary and an early story to assess her reputation as a precocious talent. Chapter Two examines Shvarts’s embrace of a polymetrical versification, hybrid stylistics, and overt spirituality that were unwelcome in an increasingly conservative political and literary environment. Chapter Three presents the undertakings of the andegraund (underground), with Shvarts as a central, theatrical, and yet elusive figure whose richly intertextual “vision adventures,” “small epics,” and other poems resonated with her peers, even as she remained an aloof outsider.

This study contributes to a growing body of scholarship demonstrating the vibrancy of the socialist 1970s, when nonconformists overcame fear and surveillance to pursue independent agendas throughout Eastern Europe. Here I document the innovative creative work that grew out of collective endeavors in Leningrad, a unique environment that gave rise to Joseph Brodsky and Elena Shvarts, among other figures who merit scholarly attention.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.