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Wife of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to deliver keynote at U. of I. Summer Lab

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
217-333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will be the focus of the Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum, one of the highlights of the Summer Research Laboratory on Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia from June 14-17. The wife and sons of the dissident author will participate in the forum. The 88-year-old Solzhenitsyn remains active and continues to write, but rarely travels far from home. Instead, he said, wife Natalia is his public face.

Released 5/31/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The wife of Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will be the featured speaker at a University of Illinois conference devoted to her husband’s contributions to modern Russian literature, history and political life.

Natalia Solzhenitsyn will present the keynote talk at the Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum, beginning at 6:30 p.m. on June 14 in Room 314 of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana. The theme of this year’s forum is “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as Writer, Myth-Maker and Public Figure”; the title of the keynote talk is “Another Time, Another Burden: Solzhenitsyn After His Return to Russia.”

Also participating in the conference will be Solzhenitsyn’s sons, Ignat and Stephan, who will chair panels. Ignat is the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia; Stephan, an urban planner in Moscow.

The Fisher Forum, which takes place June 14-17, is one of the highlights of the annual Summer Research Laboratory on Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia, hosted by the U. of I.’s Russian, East European and Eurasian Center. The forum is named for the summer lab’s founder, U. of I. professor emeritus of history Ralph Fisher, and his wife.

The lab, a campus tradition since 1973, draws scholars from throughout the world to conduct research and take part in other scholarly pursuits. This year’s lab runs from June 11 through Aug. 3. In addition to providing scholars with access to the U. of I. Library, which houses the largest Slavic collection west of Washington, D.C., the lab features workshops, discussion groups and film screenings.

Fisher Forum organizer Richard Tempest, a professor and the acting head of the U. of I. department of Slavic languages and literatures, is writing a book about Solzhenitsyn.

The dissident author – who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 – returned to Russia in 1994 after living in exile in the United States for 20 years. He was expelled from the former Soviet Union after his writings focused worldwide attention on the injustices and inhumanity of the country’s forced labor camps, known as the Gulag. The author drew upon his own experiences as a prisoner in the Stalin-era camps in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” (1962), “The First Circle” (1968) and the three-volume history “The Gulag Archipelago (1973-1975).

His more recently published titles include “The Red Wheel” (1983-1991), a four-volume epic focused on the first World War and the Russian revolution; “Rebuilding Russia (1990); “Russia in the Abyss” (1998); and “Two Centuries Together” (2001-2002), a history of Russian-Jewish relations.

Tempest said the 88-year-old Solzhenitsyn remains active and continues to write, but rarely travels far from home. Instead, he said, wife Natalia is his public face.

“She is his closest collaborator and edits and markets all his work. She is also chair of the Russian Social Fund, a charity established by Solzhenitsyn, which uses royalties from sales of his books to pay pensions of victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Although the author is known in Russia and throughout the world as a leader in the struggle to promote personal freedom and human rights, Tempest views Solzhenitsyn’s contributions even more broadly.

“For me, Solzhenitsyn is the 20th century – at least the Russian 20th century,” the professor said. “He lived through World War II, was a prisoner in the Gulag, a famous author, dissident and manual worker. He’s connected to all kinds of events in the 20th century.

“He writes these sprawling Russian novels with family, war and peace, historical, political and moral themes. His books are all about respecting other opinions and cultures. But he also has this public face that goes beyond literature.”

Tempest regards Solzhenitsyn not only as “a great Russian patriot,” but also as a prophet.

“He is always aware of the future and changes that the future might bring,” he said.

More information about the forum and the summer lab is available online at www.reec.uiuc.edu.