Alexander Genis (USA)

Photo: private collection

Alexander Genis (b 1953) is a genuine cosmopolitan: being of Jewish origin, he was born in Russia, grew up in Riga and graduated from the philology department of the Latvian State University; in 1977 he emigrated to the United States where he lives until today. His cultural activities are also rather extensive: he is a writer, essayist, literary critic, culturologist and radio anchorman. In the United States he started his career in New York where he among others met the winner of the Nobel literary prize Joseph Brodsky and Sergey Dovlatov. At present Genis lives in New Jersey, although it would be better to say in his case that he lives in books. His self evaluation might best be summarised  by a vision that a cosmopolitan is not a citizen of the world but a tenant of the Babel Tower and a reader of the Alexandrian Library.

In the United States, Genis leads the weekly broadcast of Radio Liberty, Hour of America dedicated to introducing American culture to the Russian listener. He has also worked at the newspaper New American, issued by his friend Sergey Dovlatov. He has his own column ‘Reading Lessons‘ at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Serbian author Milorad Pavić has said: ‘Genis has located himself in a position from where he can see Russia from America and America from Russia – through China.‘

For the Estonian reader Alexander Genis should be well known; his witty and dashing essays about world literature  Reading lessons: kamasutra of a booklover („Lugemistunnid: raamatusõbra kamasuutra”) and Dovlatov and his surroundings: a philological novel („Dovlatov ja tema ümbrus: filoloogiline romaan”), both translated by Toomas Kall, have not only been published but have also become very close to the readers. Aleksander Genis has also been to Estonia several times and has in an interview to Toomas Kall confessed that for the first time he came here hitch-hiking in his teens. Genis has also participated in Prima Vista festival (2018), although due to an accident only through the internet. Now the public has an opportunity to greet that bright intellectual in person in our university town.

Alexander Genis will participate in the events of the Lotman’s day of our Russian programme and meet his public at his author’s night in the conference hall of the University of Tartu Library on the 11th of May at 5 p.m.