The Ulyanovsk UNESCO City of Literature Program Directorate continues publishing The Only Question - new international project - materials. 40 authors from 18 UNESCO literary cities (or related cities) participate in the project. New guests of the project are the authors from Melbourne and Ulyanovsk - Rijn Collins and Gala Uzryutova.
The organizers invited writers, poets, playwrights, translators from UNESCO literary cities to imagine they have the opportunity to ask just one question to an author from any other literary city. The initiative will help to introduce the authors from the literary cities to each other and establish their dialogue. The project will also let to understand what issues are of concern to authors from different countries today. Besides, it will provide an opportunity for readers to get to know new writers and poets.
Questions and answers by the authors (in Russian and English) along with a short biography of each participant and links to their publications will regularly appear on the Ulyanovsk UNESCO City of Literature Website, other literary cities' websites, and social media, etc. Writers' dialogs will also be offered for publication on the project partners' platforms (literary magazines, libraries, literary media, and mass media). As a result of the project, in summer 2022 an online anthology will be released (in Russian and English) with all the conversations.
Melbourne and Ulyanovsk - Rijn Collins and Gala Uzryutova
After reading your interviews and texts, I see that for you, as well as for me, a place and a landscape are of great importance. Could you please tell me more, how does a place, a landscape affect your writing? And do you feel like you are influencing a place when you’re writing about it?
I love this question, Gala, because place plays a hugely significant role in my writing, both behind the scenes and on the page.
I’m deeply interested in the world and lucky to have seen quite a lot of it. I’ve travelled extensively, inspired by my academic background in linguistics and languages, and have lived in Australia and Europe. I’ve also had two writing residencies, in Iceland and Finland.
It was in these Nordic countries that my reverence for solitary and snowy lands began to form. I was born at the Winter Solstice; I crave the cold and its comforts. Both residencies were isolated – a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle, a dense forest. I chose them for this reason.
In remote places, where people are few, the focus turns to the landscape. And it’s here that I’m most inspired. Whether the northern lights dancing over the snow of Iceland, or the red dirt and coconut palms of the Northern Territory here in Australia, a connection to place seems to lead me to my words, every time. It allows me to go deeper, to quietly see what resonates, and how best to express it.
I am sensitive to my surroundings, very much so. In my late teens and early twenties I spent several years agoraphobic, rarely leaving my home. This experience gave me a keen appreciation of my surroundings and its sensory details; the sheen of holly berries outside my window, and the clang of the #70 tram barrelling down the street. It was all I had to focus on. I believe this is why I’m finely attuned to place now, and still seek out writing studios where I can absorb my environment in solitude.
Covid and its lockdowns have kept me inside yet again. This time, however, a shift has occurred. I’ve been longing for the forest where I grew up, just outside Melbourne; the scent of damp soil, and the scurry of small paws in the undergrowth, twigs cracking. There’s an almost gothic sense of mystery and menace there, and I look forward to seeing what that pulls from my pen.
As for leaving my own influence on a place, I hope I can do so by shining a light on lands people might not have considered before. I’ve had short stories published set in New Orleans and St Petersburg, Mississippi and Cunnamulla, rural Australia. My upcoming novel is set in both Reykjavik and Melbourne, and I hope readers come away with a stronger sense of lands they might not have considered before.
This is why the UNESCO Cities of Literature network is so important, and why projects like this are worth celebrating. Anything that connects writers and readers can therefore remind them of the universality of their experience, which is just one facet of what makes literature so rich and rewarding.
Your collaborations are so interesting, involving different countries/languages and their artists. I love this multicultural aspect, as I have an academic background in linguistics. I’ve taken part in many collaborations with musicians, painters, photographers and other writers, and feel it’s really contributed to my growth as a writer. Do you feel that collaborating with other artists has enriched your own written work, and if so, how?
Yes, I’m deeply interested in collaborations, not only in writing but also in interdisciplinary projects, including with colleagues from other countries. When cultural landscapes touch, penetrate each other, something new is created that did not exist before, and this allows you to make some kind of inner discoveries that enrich you and make your view of the world much wider. You can even look at your text differently, as, for example, it happened with me in the process of joint work on translations of my poems into English, which we were doing together with my friend, the Canadian poet Stuart Ross (poetry chapbook All the names are occupied, but one is vacant was published in Proper Tales Press Imprint (Canada, 2021)). On the one hand, some things from the Russian language are completely untranslatable, on the other hand, the Russian and English languages can sometimes coincide as if they were one language. Such discoveries also took place when we, together with German poets, translated each other's poems during the project "VERSschmuggel 2015", organized by the Goethe-Institut and the Berlin Literary Workshop. It was an amazing experience, taking poetry far beyond the linguistic space.
Each such joint work shows that the text is not just a text, but that invisible associative-emotional landscape that arises during perception and is capable of transforming from one type of art to another. It was extremely curious for me to work with the artist and translator from Melbourne Mark Wingrave on the joint interdisciplinary project Pages from the River. Mark created amazing images on the lines of my poems about water, in fact, the text moved to a different format, it became something flowing from one type of life to another. A part of the project was published in a special issue of the international magazine SOANYWAY dedicated to water (2020).
I also love working in other genres. For example, together with my sister, artist Yulia Uzryutova, we shot the short film Morning Ulyanovsk, capturing the appearance of an empty city without people early in the morning. The project was a deep visual experience for me, which made it very clear that there are more similarities than differences between text and visual art.
Each new collaboration is a unique thing. This is an opportunity to find out how another author (artist) works, to go beyond some of your own frameworks, to clear your perception, change your thinking, and refresh your eyes on what and how you are doing. Working on joint projects, you are no longer closed on yourself, which means that you can see more and discover a new perspective.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Photographer Shannon McDonald
Rijn Collins is an award-winning Australian writer with a passion for tales of the odd and obsessive. Over one hundred of her short stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals, broadcast on Australian and American radio, and performed at literary festivals. Her work has won awards from as far afield as New Orleans, Melbourne and New York, where her short story, ‘Almost Flamboyant,’ won the inaugural Sarah Awards for International Audio Fiction in 2016. Forever drawn to the cold, the quiet and the quirky, Rijn is deeply interested in the links between identity and isolation, inspired by writing residencies in remote villages in Iceland and Finland. In her memoir collection, ‘Voice’ (Somekind Press, 2021), Rijn knocks on the doors to belonging, identity and love through the power of language and her innate desire to understand both herself and others. ‘Voice’ draws on her linguistic background in Flemish, Irish and Icelandic, and is a curious tour of foreign places and words, as well as a triumphant journey to the heart and light.
Her debut novel (to be published early 2022, Scribner) melds the lure of two lands at polar opposites, Australia and Iceland. When the protagonist moves from her hometown of Melbourne to Reykjavík to explore her heritage, she hides her growing obsession with a famous book until it takes over her life in all manner of unexpected ways. Inspired by the isolation and beauty of both countries, this novel is a dark and quirky look at identity, and the lengths we can go to hide our fragility from those we love…and sometimes, from ourselves. Rijn’s work, whether in short form, novel-length or audio, often draws from her travels and is enriched by her fifteen years as an English teacher, highlighting the role that language – and literature – plays in forming identity and concepts of home.
Photo by Alexander Znak
Gala Uzryutova is a Russian poet, writer, playwright, and author of interdisciplinary art projects, many of which are related to landscape mentality issues. She was born in 1983 in Ulyanovsk (Russia), graduated from the Ulyanovsk State University.
1. «Turned around, and there was a forest», poetry (Russian Gulliver PH, Moscow, - 2015).
2. «Sasha Country», Young Adult (KompasGuide PH, Moscow - 2019). The book is being filmed by the Vega Film Company.
3. «The snow I missed», prose (Bookscriptor, Moscow, - 2018).
4. «All the names are occupied, but one is vacant» (poetry in English, translated by a Canadian poet Stuart Ross and the author). – Proper Tales Press, Canada, 2021.
Winner of the Moscow Contemporary Art Museum Garage Self-Isolation contest (2020); scholar of the Culture on the Move Goethe-Institut Programme (2019), laureate of the Russian-Italian Literary Award Rainbow (Verona, 2019), European Drama Contest Eurodram (2018), Literary Prose Award Bookscriptor 2018, International Drama Contest Badenweiler 2016, Blagov Poetry Award 2016, Russian Gulliver Special Poetic Award 2014.
She worked at Writers 'Residences in Ventspils, Ljubljana, Virtual Writers' Residency in Nanjing and Virtual Writers' Residency in Melbourne. Her texts were translated into Deutsche, English, Slovenian, Latvian, Italian, Lithuanian, Chinese, Ukrainian. A Member of the Moscow Writers' Union.