Andrew D. Kaufman
Place of Birth
Ph.D., Stanford University; M.A., Stanford University; B.A., Amherst College
Most memorable or most influential class at Amherst
Survey of Russian Literature, taught by Professor Stanley Rabinowtiz, and Dutch and Flemish Painting, taught by Professor Joel Upton
Most memorable or most influential professor
Stanley Rabinowitz, whom I credit with first sparking my passion for Russian literature.
Aside from the research that went into The Gambler Wife (Anna Dostoyevsky, the Russian feminist movement, the publishing industry in 19th century Russia): Russian novel, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, 19th and 20th century Russian history.
Awards and Prizes
My last book, Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times was a finalist for the Virginia Library of Congress Annual Award in the nonfiction category. The Gambler Wife is a finalist for the PEN America Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and is being adapted into a movie.
I would still say it's Tolstoy's War and Peace, the subject of the book I wrote before The Gambler Wife: Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times.
Gosh, such a hard one. Currently, I'm mesmerized by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most famous for his book, The Little Prince. His adult works contain the same childlike purity and truthfulness as in his famous children's book. I am stunned by the depth and clarity of his imagery, how he can take a subject like aviation and transform it into a beautiful meditation on what matters in life.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I did a lot of academic writing in graduate school. My thinking was pretty good but my writing was not. I was trying to sound the way I thought scholars were supposed to sound. My prose was disembodied, voiceless, like a trombone with a rag stuffed into the barrel. I went through a long process of self-discovery, of uncovering and then committing to my own truth, which led to a different kind of writing: writing that came not just from my head and research but from my heart and my own personal journey. If I couldn't connect deeply to the material in some way, then I couldn't write about it. Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times was born out of the Great Recession of 2008, when I, like so many others, was trying to figure out how to make meaning of a moment of rupture in our society. My next book, The Gambler Wife, a biography of Dostoyevsky’s second wife, was for me also a profound love story that helped me understand my own wife and marriage better. Though Russian literature and culture are the ostensible “subjects” of my books, in truth I tell stories about others that help me clarify what is true and matters in my own life. And I have had incredible support along the way, from my agent who took a risk on me twelve years ago, to my wife who has stood by my side through my every failure and triumph as a writer.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Love the process, don't focus on the final product. You'll know if and when it has arrived. Experiment, take risks, wander. Expect to hit many dead ends and have many false starts. Above my writing desk, I have a piece of paper with this note to myself: "Love everything you write. Fall in love with none of it."
About the Author:
Andrew D. Kaufman is an associate professor, General Faculty, lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures and assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia. A PhD in Slavic languages and literatures from Stanford University, Kaufman is the author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times and Understanding Tolstoy, and a coauthor of Russian for Dummies. His work has been featured on Today, NPR, and PBS, and in The Washington Post, and he has served as a Russian literature expert for Oprah’s Book Club. Kaufman is the creator of Books Behind Bars, introducing incarcerated youth to the writings of Dostoyevsky and other authors.