Category Archives: Russian literature

Slavic & East European Collections Add Rare Titles

A number of significant, rare, and in some cases unique antiquarian works from Eastern Europe were purchased for Columbia’s libraries over the past twelve months.  Through the efforts of colleagues in Global Studies, Rare Books & Manuscripts, and the Avery Classics Library, and with additional financial support from the Libraries’ Primary Resources Fund, distinctive collections in a number of languages were further enhanced.

–Columbia’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library added to its growing holdings of Baltic and East Central European modernist publications. Thirteen Latvian, Lithuanian, or Estonian titles (including six serials), and sixteen Hungarian titles were purchased. The vast majority are unique additions to WorldCat, or are held by only one or two other libraries in North America. Among the Baltic titles are Elegiski moment [Elegiac Moment] (Riga, 1925); and Karavane [Caravan](Riga [1920]), both illustrated by Niklāvs Strunke (1894-1966), one of the major artists of the Latvian avant-garde; and the satirical journals Hallo! (Riga, 1927-1928), and Ho-Ho (Riga, 1922-1924) containing graphics and articles by prominent Latvian modernist artists and writers. Other titles include works illustrated with linocuts by the Hungarian architect, writer, graphic artist, ethnologist, publisher and politician Károly Kós (1883-1977); an exhibition catalogue (Budapest, 1919) of art seized by the Hungarian Soviets from private collectors during the abortive revolution of 1919; the Hungarian Dadaist Ödön Palasovszky’s (1899-1980) Reorganizacio [Reorganization] (Budapest, 1924) a collection of poems and declarations; and Világanyám: Versek [My World-Mother: Poems] by the avant-garde poet, novelist and artist Lajos Kassák (1887-1967) published in 1921 in Vienna during his exile from Hungary. This latter title is characterized by the use of képarchitektura (pictorial architecture), in which words and images hold equal compositional value in the page design.

–Interesting Czech antiquarian acquisitions included collection of poems by Bretislav Mencák (1903-1981), Romance počestného clowna [Romance of an Honorable Clown] ([Prague], 1929).

–Columbia’s Polish acquisitions included two one-act plays by the noted Futurist artist, poet, and playwright Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945) Osioł I słońce w metamorfozie [Donkey & the Sun in Metamorphosis] (Kraków, 1922), and Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927) Matka: Dramat w IV aktach [Mother: A drama in 4 acts](Lwów & Warszawa, 1903).

–Another unusual acquisition was a five-volume limited edition of the collected works of the polymath Jan Potocki’s (1761-1815) (Louvain-Paris, 2004-2006). This set comes from an edition of only fifteen printed on special paper for Count Marek Potocki, a descendant.

–Sketches from the Warsaw literary cabarets of the interwar years: Pierwsza szopka warszawska. [The First Warsaw Revue] (Krakow, 1922) with illustrated wrappers and illustations by Zbigniew Pronaszko; Polityczna szopka cyrulika Warszawskiegopiora Marjana Hemara, Jana Lechonia, Antoniego Slonimskiego, Juliana Tuwima. [Political Revue by the Warsaw Barber, by Mariana Hemar, Antoni Słonimski, and Julian Tuwim](Warszawa, 1927); Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1930); and Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1931), with decorated wrappers. Such compilations of cabaret sketches are extremely scarce, and there are no examples in any public collections in the United States with the exception of Widener Library (and not these particular examples!).

–Bohumil Stibor. Soubor dřevorytů z koncentračního tábora. [Portfolio of Woodcuts from a Concentration Camp] (V Pelhřimově, 1946), consisting of ten original woodcuts by a former prisoner, printed shortly after his liberation. The images depict the steps from arrest, imprisonment, torture and finally mass murder. This portfolio may contain one of the very first graphic images of the crematoria. The only other copies in WorldCat are at Stanford and the Národní knihovna České republiky (Czech National Library).

Holocaust Album 2

Columbia’s holdings of 20th century Russian-language materials are among the largest and finest in North America. The collection of early 20th century imprints produced in both the homeland and emigration are particularly distinguished, and are regularly supplemented via gift and purchase on the antiquarian market. Among the acquisitions made over the past semester:

–Il’ia Erenburg, Trinadtsat trubok. [Thirteen Pipes] (Moskva, 1923), with wrappers in black and red designed by Liubov Kozintsova (1898-1970);

–Nikolai Gorlov, Futurizm i revoliutsiia; poezii futuristov. [Futurism and Revolution: poems of the Futurists] (Moskva, 1924).

Futurizm–Zakhida Iffat (pseud. of Burnasheva, Zaida Khusainovna, b. 1896-?). Zora Iulduz (Zvezda Venera). [Dream Star (Star of Venus)](Kazan, 1922), a scarce provincial imprint of a work by a female Tatar poet, translated from the Tatar original, with lovely wrappers and illustration by Aleksandra Platunova (1896-1966), painter, graphic artist and a member of the short-lived Kazan group “Vsadnik” which was active from 1920 to 1924.

Sorochinskaia Iarmarka. [The Market/Fair at Sorochyntsi] ([Moscow, [1932]). This unique example of a theatre program consists of one small oblong sheet ingeniously folded into five pages, with a Constructivist wrapper printed in black and red. The wrappers may be the work of Nisson Shifrin (1892-1961) who is credited as the designer of the overall production. V.I. Nemirovich- Danchenko (1858-1943) had returned to Soviet Russia from Hollywood in 1926 and opened the Musical Theater.

Byt’ bditel’nym: Al’bom nagliadnykh posobii [Be Vigilant! An Album of Visual Aides] (Moskva, 1963). This rare title consists of sixty unbound pages of illustrations on individual 35 x 51 cm. sheets. Designed by Varvara Rodchenko (b. 1925), the daughter of Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), the photos and photomontages depict ways in which foreign agents might surreptitiously gather intelligence. The individual sheets were intended to be mounted on a wall, making this complete copy, in its original illustrated slipcase, all the more rare.

–Henri de Règnier (1864-1936). Tri Rasskaza. [Three Tales] (Peterburg, 1922). One of 75 numbered examples in an edition of 500, consists of illustrations by Dmitri Buchène (1893-1993)to the mildly erotic tales of de Règnier, and is reminiscent of the roughly contemporaneous works of Konstantin Somov (1869-1939). Somov’s exceptionally rare and particularly “revealing” (and incredibly rare) uncensored version of the 1918 Le Livre de la Marquise (held by New York Public) was printed in 1918 in St. Petersburg under a false imprint, indicating Venice. (See: Edward Kasinec & Robert Davis, “A Note on Konstantin Somov’s Erotic Book Illustration,” Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture = Eros i pornografiia v russkoi kul’ture (Moscow: Ladomir, 1999), pp. 338-[395].)

–Mikhail Vladimirovich Matorin (1901-1976). Shest Nature-Morte. [Six Still Lifes] Moskva, printed by the artist, 1921), is a portfolio of six wood engravings and linoleum cuts (some in color), each signed and dated by the artist, produced in an edition of only 30 copies, none of which are found in WorldCat. Matorin was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist who in 1920, despite his youth, began his long and distinguished career as a teacher, first at Moscow’s State Printing Workshop and later as Professor at Moscow’s V.I. Surikov Institute.

Columbia Acquires Papers of Brodsky Translator & Biographer Lev Loseff

Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the papers of Lev Loseff (1937-1999), noted Russian émigré poet, literary critic, professor of Russian Literature and Language at Dartmouth College, and a lifelong friend and authoritative biographer of Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996). 

This acquisition of about 40 linear feet (more than twenty-eight packing boxes) of manuscripts, poems, correspondence, photographs, autographed first editions, and subject files includes a plethora of Brodsky materials, and represents an important addition to the  already rich collection of Russian materials in the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture.

Born Lev Lifshits, Loseff was the son of Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known Russian poet.  He graduated from the Leningrad State University and soon after started writing poetry for Russian children’s magazines. In order not to be confused with his father, he changed his name to Loseff. 

He immigrated to the U.S. in 1976, and spent several years in Ann Arbor working for the Ardis Publishing House while obtaining his American doctoral degree.  In 1979, he accepted a position at Dartmouth College where he worked until his death.  In America he published twelve  well-received collections of verse and fiction in Russian, as well as numerous works of literary criticism. 

Joseph Brodsky’s correspondence, drawings, typed and holograph manuscripts, and books with inscriptions cover the period 1969 to 2001.  Some of the photographs cover an even earlier period in Brodsky’s life in Soviet Russia.  The collection also includes legal papers relating to Joseph Brodsky’s will.

Lev Loseff’s correspondence with well known Russian émigré intellectuals including Sergei Dovlatov, Ivan Elagin, Konstantin Kuzminsky, Leonid Rzhevsky is complimented by his research materials on these significant representatives of Russian Diaspora.

A collection of this magnitude offers valuable information on Russian émigré literary circles and sources of Russian scholarship in the United States. The Loseff Collection will also enhance the research and outreach activities of both the Harriman Institute and the East European Studies Center, both recipients of recent NEH Summer Institute grants for the study of America’s Russophone and East Central European communities. The Loseff collection constitutes an important complement to Brodsky materials already held at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, The Russian National Library, St. Petersburg, and the Green Library, Stanford University.

The Library can provide users with limited access to the Loseff papers while they are being processed. Patrons should make an appointment by calling the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at 212-854-3986.