Back to Literature, Past
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Sharing A Dream

Russia, A Land For Lovers of Literature

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author of “This is the Place”

Yesterday I returned from literary never-land.  Or was it the day before?  Time- and-energy-lagged, I cannot be sure.  Still, I needed to share with readers in spite of a time-lapsed brain, in spite of memories that feel as if they are drifting through a sieve. 

            I am also certain that the place was St. Petersburg, Russia (though St. Petersburg is a place apart from Russia—not old Muscovy, but a vigorous and tender European city).  I am also absolutely sure that the occasion was a giant St. Petersburg party for writers called Summer Literary Seminars run by Mikhail Iossel, a native of Peter the Great’s city who emigrated to the U.S. in 1986.

            The rest, however, is hazy.  The city is so full, the program was so jammed that I couldn’t possibly consume even a fraction of the literary cuisine available.

I met writers I never dreamed of meeting. I took classes from them.  I rubbed shoulders with future greats.  Well, possible future greats, not because they won’t be great if they keep writing, but the publishing industry’s whimsy has to be considered and, regardless of talent, they may be heard from in the future…or not. 

            As readers of this column, you will want recommendations:

1.    By all means visit St. Petersburg. It is the city of Gogol and Dostoyevsky and Akhmatova.  If you read Russian writers, you’ll recognize the very sites that these authors describe in their most famous work. 

2.   I took a class from a young writer who celebrated her 33 birthday (only) while I was there.  Aimée Bender is the author of the imaginative “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt,” a collection of stories, and a new novel called “An Invisible Sign of My Own.”  The New York Times raved about the latter. Aimée also teaches at my alma mater, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.  If you enjoy literature that is slightly wacky and very original, you’ll want to learn more about her.

3.    Mark Halperin helped me struggle through the rudiments of poetry for one of my works in progress called “Skyscapes.”  He teaches at Central Washington University and is the author of poetry volumes like “Near and Far” (with Robert Bixby).  This man is a charmer and you may want to look up his poetry if you don’t already know it. 

4.  Robert Olmstead was there, too.  He is the author of “A Trail of Hearts Blood Wherever We Go.”  He writes prose like a poet.  He is one hell of a conversationalist at places known to foster good chats in this city of white nights like The Mad Dog and The Idiot.

5.    Robert Creely spoke to the group and was a guest lecturer at one of my classes.  I felt honored and edified.  One of his recent books is a “Review of Contemporary Fiction: Brigid Brophy/Robert Creely/ Osman Lins.”  You can find his poem “For Love” at 

6.    A few names to watch for in the literary world are:  Matt Perez, David Beaty, Joyce Epstein, Jean Grant, Nina Roy and Carolyne Wright.  Of course there were many more but, as I told you, my brain is in 3rd gear.  The many who were neglected will forgive me, I know.  Go on a web treasure hunt.  You might find some of their early work out there in techno-land.

            Of course, if you write you’ll also want to know more about this program held each year in a city where the night sky looks like malachite just before the sun sets at 2 a.m. Find everything you want to know at 

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Robert Olmstead led a workshop at Summer Literary Semesters.  His book Elements of the Writing Craft: Robert Olmstead is one that writers will want on their desktop.

Readers' Tip: Amy Tans Joy Luck Club is not new.  Those who have not read it should not miss it.  Those who have may want to review it for the language, for the insight into Asian thought that is found in its pages.