It is one of the ironies of life and history that Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин)—a Russian man partially of African descent–is considered the founder of Russian literature. It is as though the influence of Other was meant to be added to a society which has demonstrated well-documented xenophobia and antipathy toward non- Russians.
Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—mixing drama, romance, and satire— associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers. He also wrote historical fiction. His The Captain’s Daughter provides insight into Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great.
Born in Moscow, Russia, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo. Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals; in the early 1820s he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile in southern Russia. While under the strict surveillance of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will, he wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, but could not publish it until years later. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was published serially from 1825 to 1832.
In other words, Pushkin penned his works in a manner that the normal, every-day Russian could understand and, by doing so, shaped the Russian language in his own image thereafter. Two and a half centuries before him, William Shakespeare played an identical role for the English language. Continue reading “Sons of Russia and of Africa”