Alexander Pushkin: A Historic Symposium at Harvard

Exploring the Dual Heritage of Russia’s Greatest Poet, Father of Modern Russian Literature and the Black Russians of the 20th Century (Cambridge, April 2008)

Introduction by

Lolita Paiewonsky


     April 2008 brought together scholars, researchers, teachers, artists, de­partmental executives, media professionals, students, residents, visitors, and Harvard alumni from numerous disciplines both within and without the academy, and within and beyond Harvard. They descended upon Cam­bridge to celebrate, present on, bask in, read from, learn more (or in some cases learn for the first time and be set on a future course to learn more) about Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837). Pushkin is Russia’s greatest poet, the father of modern Russian literature, and precursor to Black Russians of the twentieth century. Greetings were extended to our colleagues and visiting scholars each day by Harvard officers and dignitaries. The pro­ceedings were formally opened with welcome remarks by Walter C. Car­rington, 1952 AB, 1955 JD, former U.S. Ambassador and Plenipotentiary to Nigeria and to Senegal. The second day began with remarks on behalf of President Drew Faust by then Associate Vice President James S. Hoyte, Esquire, 1965 JD, 1968 JD, 1972 PMD.

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Arthur Vincent Lourié’s Opera on Pushkin’s Black Great-Grandfather

Caryl Emerson and Klára Móricz


     The four texts below were delivered orally and in tandem at the interdisciplinary conference “Alexander Pushkin: An Historic Symposium at Harvard. Exploring the Dual Heritage of Russia’s Greatest Poet, Father of Modern Russian Literature and the Black Russians of the 20th Century,” held at Harvard University on April 4, 2008. We opened with a brief biographical introduction to the modernist composer Arthur Vincent Lourié (1891–1966), reproduced here as a timeline, followed by a summary of the plot of his Арап Петра Великого. Then Klára Móricz provided a musical and thematic interpretation of the opera. Caryl Emerson closed as a discussant, com­menting on three themes from that presentation. To date the opera has not been recorded or staged.

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Pushkin As a Poet of Blackness

Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy


     The title of this paper, “Pushkin As a Poet of Blackness,” shades into an­other title, “Pushkin As a Black Poet.” I am taking as my starting point a question one of my colleagues, Irina Reyfman, posed when my co-editors and I were first beginning the project that culminated in the book Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness. She asked—quite simply, but very much to the point—whether black and its Russian coun­terpart chernyi could be viewed as meaningful equivalents with regard to comparative Russian and American racial semiotics generally and, more specifically, with regard to Pushkin. Obviously this is an aspect of the much larger issue of whether race mattered to Pushkin and his contempo­raries and to those who created and participated in the Pushkin cult after him. The contributors to our book project unanimously concurred that, at different times and in different ways, race does indeed matter in studying Pushkin. Here I am interested precisely in the intersection of linguistic, cultural, and political difference. To what extent does the word chernyi in Pushkin’s works resonate with the poet’s African ancestry?

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Pushkin's Aestheticized Defense of His African Heritage in His Poem "My Genealogy"

Sonia I. Ketchian


I treasure the past in my home,
I secretly conjure up the past.
– Anna Akhmatova, “They came and said…”[1]


     This study concentrates on Pushkin’s masterpiece of rebuttal “My Geneal­ogy” (“Moia rodoslovnaia”), crafted in defense of his Pushkin ancestry, on the one hand, and his African progenitor Abram Gannibal (c. 1696–1781), on the other. I first consider the background to Pushkin’s poem, scholarly and personal alike, so vital to understanding the full import of the anon­ymous feuilleton attack by Faddei Bulgarin (1789–1859), by no means the first but rather the “last straw.” Then I enlist the poet’s brilliantly mar­shaled specific vocabulary and literary devices that effectively refute the vicious transparent attacks. The indirect nature of Pushkin’s self-defense augments its impact. By laughing in the familiar humorous manner of a young “know-it-all” adult at his ostensibly risible Pushkin ancestors, the poet disarms his audience’s vigilance and attention so that they hardly sense the mounting intensity of laughter amidst defense and praise of Gannibal until the final indisputable, but anonymous counterattack on Bulgarin (under the name of Figliarin) at the very end—achieved without a coda.

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