Literary roundup: The price of Russian avant-garde poetry and a Hebrew poet and photographer of Russian writers

Haaretz has a fascinating article on the rich but deeply conflicted life of the Hebrew poet and mostly St. Petersburg resident photographer Asher K. Shapiro. Having converted to Christianity on what he thought was his deathbed so he could marry his pregnant Orthodox Russian girlfriend Shapiro spent his life with the social benefits and personal drawbacks of his fateful decision. He would end up the photographer to the Czar’s family and Russian high society as well as photographing the golden age of Russian novelists, including Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Goncharov. He used his position to advocate for Jewish causes but ended up tormented and alone.

Russian literature on the block

Living poets rarely make very much money and the avant-garde poets from the early years of the Soviet Union suffered through some major privations. If only someone could invent a time machine to wire money back into the past writers and poets like Osip Mandelstam, Andrei Bely and Nikolai Oleinikov would be able to benefit from the recent auction of their work at Bonhams which saw some pretty decent prices paid up. Oleinikov, like fellow OBERIU members Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky made a living as a children’s book writer and editor of children’s magazines Ezh and Chizh, 84 issues of which sold for bids of up to $12,500. Mandelstam’s signed autograph poem went for $35,000.

Photo – Cover of Chizh, #11, 1933, Russian children’s magazine edited by OBERIU poet Nikolai Oleinikov, from Bonhams

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