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The Only Question: Seattle – Ulyanovsk | Moscow — Cara Diaconoff - Irina Bogatyryova part I

Афиша  встречи И. Богатыревой и К. Диаконофф

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.  Authors from Seattle — Ulyanovsk | Moscow – are our guests of the project.

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.


Cara Diaconoff

Dear Irina

Hello again! I've been reading your materials with a lot of interest. I could ask you about many things--your music, the fact that you write for both adults and children, the poetic/impressionistic style of your novel «Sogra» (I read the first bit of it in a Google translation :), or even your hitchhiking. It's so interesting that you've not only written but edited a work all about hitchhiking. I actually lived in Russia for a bit, from 1997 to 1999, and hitched rides there a couple of times, although the leaders of the program I was in (U.S. Peace Corps) always warned against it. But it's true that sometimes it was the only way to get somewhere!

The thing I'm probably most interested in, though, about your work is the influence of folklore in it and the fact that you're a professional folklorist. As it happens, I have read a few Russian tales and have been writing a few stories that in some way take those tales as inspiration. I'm currently working on a novella that is inspired by the life of one of those rather tragic nineteenth-century Russian folktale collectors (namely, Alexander Afanasyev). But I've never done an especially formal study of folklore.

With this background in mind, I was especially interested in what you said in one of the interviews in your links--that folklore is "an extremely relevant, modern picture of the world" and that it shouldn't be thought of as something only from a distant past. 

My question, then, is as follows:

Are there any urban legends, or folklore of what you called "closed communities" such as the army or prisons, that have directly inspired any of your work? Or, what's an example of an especially compelling urban legend that you know about?

Thanks in advance for your answer. I really enjoyed finding out about you and your work.

Irina Bogatyryova

Dear Cara!

I'm so sorry that I couldn't reply you earlier! I was too busy these days, but I kept in mind your email and your superinteresting question  - thank you so much for it! And I also read all materials about you and the beginning of your novel Stranger to You. You depicted Moscow of 90th so clearly that I recognized it - with all its kiosks on streets and beggers in the metro. I've been living in Moscow since 2000, but I remember that time - and I felt its spirit from your proze once again. Wonderful!

And everything that you wrote about your interest in Russian folklore impressed me a lot. Especially your intentions to write a novel inspired by Afanasiev's life - it's so unexpected, even in Russia not many people know him (although his collection of fairytails are still very popular). I wonder why do you have such deep interest in Russian culture, is it because of your roots (according to your surname) or not?

Anyway all of these made me to ask you a following question (because the previous one is not a question, but just my wondering;)). I want to ask you who feels interest and knows Russian culture and folklore - do you feel connection and, maybe, influence between American and Russian cultures? I'm sure you know that for Russians America is very important country, there are different feelings to it in the society from the adoration to the dislike, and degrees of them have been changing during the time. But, for example, when I came to the USA (I was there 3 times), I felt our countris are mostly like sisters who grew up in one family but then got married and began to live in different places and rarely have a connection. But they are still sisters. I hope you understand what I mean. So I'd like to know your opinion and maybe your feelings as a writer and a person who lived in Russia in not the best time for it.

I'm really looking forward to reading your answer. And I will answer you in my next email.

Have a good weekend!




Cara Diaconoff

Кара Диаконофф

I earned a B.A. at Oberlin College, an M.A. in English literature at University of Wisconsin, and an M.F.A. in creative writing at Indiana University. I have taught writing and literature as a visiting professor at Southern Methodist University, a Visiting Writer at Whitman College, a lecturer at Texas Christian University, a Peace Corps volunteer at colleges in Russia, and currently as an instructor at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington. I also served as managing editor of The Gettysburg Review. I am the author of a story collection, Unmarriageable Daughters, published by Lewis-Clark Press, and a novel, I’ll be a Stranger to You, published by Outpost19 e-books. I’ll be a Stranger to You won first prize in the novel category in the Utah Original Writing Competition, sponsored by the Utah Arts Council. My second novel, Marian Hall, is currently seeking publication. My stories have appeared individually in Indiana Review, Other Voices, The Adirondack Review, descant, and elsewhere; my honors include fellowships from the Norman Mailer Center and the Indiana Arts Commission and residencies at the MacDowell Colony. I am currently working on a collection of stories inspired by Russian folk tales and historical settings.

Ирина Богатыерва

ИРина Богатырева

Irina Bogatyryova is a writer, musician, and anthropologist. She is the author of books "AvtoSTOP" ("Off the beaten track", Moscow, Glass, 2012), "Comrade Anna" ("Camarade Anna", 2018, Albin Michel), "Kadyn", "Spirits", "A formula of freedom", "I am a sister of Totoro", "White sogra", "Vedyana", "Moscow is speaking", etc. Novels and short stories were translated into English, Chinese, Dutch, Arabian, French, Swedish. Irina was born in Kazan, grew up in Ulyanovsk. Graduated from Moscow Literature Institute and Russian State University for the Humanities. Her prose was published in Russian literature magazines. She's a winner of the "Debut prize" - the literature prize for young writers, Goncharov prize, and Student Booker. A winner of Mikhalkov's prize for literature for teenagers and Kniguru - the prize for children's and teenagers' literature. 

Plays the jew's harp in a duo "Olkhon Gate".
In Russian
De aanval in Dutch.
Exit (Portal 9) in English and Arabic.
Camarade Anna in French, published by Albin Michel link

The Russian Kerouacs: Irina Bogatyreva’s guide to hitchhiking

Previous issues:

  1. Heidelberg-Ulyanovsk – Şafak Sariçiçek and Sergei Gogin
  2. Melbourne - Heidelberg – Christopher Raja and Klaus Kayser
  3. Calgary-Mannheim - Kelly Kaur And Claudia Schmid
  4. Melbourne And Ulyanovsk - Rijn Collins and Gala Uzryutova
  5. Heidelberg - Nottingham – Ingeborg von Zadow and Leanne Moden
  6. Durban-Ulyanovsk – Adiela Akoo and Sergei Gogin
  7. Heidelberg-Ulyanovsk|Moscow – Şafak Sarıçiçek and Irina Bogatyryova
  8. Yekaterinburg-Iowa City – Ekaterina Simonova and Jacquelyn Bengfort
  9. Iowa City-Québec – Jeremy Geragotelis and Vanessa Bell
  10. Heidelberg-Ulyanovsk – Juliane Sophie Kayser and Gala Uzryutova
  11. Durban-Melbourne – Adiela Akoo and Rijn Collins
  12. Heidelberg – Dublin – Şafak Sarıçiçek and Csilla Toldy
  13. Ulyanovsk - Heidelberg - Gala Uzryutova and Juliane Sophie Kayser
  14. Melbourne-Heidelberg:   Anne Richter And Judith Rossell
  15. Ljubljana-Melbourne – Andrej Tomazin and Jo Langdon
  16. Melbourne and Heidelberg - Christopher Raja and Konstantin Hanack
  17. Seattle and Ulyanovsk - Cara Diaconoff and Sergei Gogin
  18. Melbourne - Ulyanovsk – Penelope Bartlau and Danila Nozdryakov
  19. Durban - Manchester – Adiela Akoo and Roma Havers
  20. Norwich - Melbourne– Elena Traina and Penelope Bartlau