Catherine Ciepiela studies and translates modern Russian literature, mainly Russian poetry. When asked why one should learn Russian, her answer is not “so you can read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky” but “so you can read the Russian poets.” The tradition founded by Alexander Pushkin in the early 19th century reached a peak a century later with the modernists – Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaeva and others – and is experiencing another renaissance in the post-Soviet era. Ciepiela works in all these periods, always with an interest in how Russian poets converse with world poetry.
Ciepiela is an acknowledged expert on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), whose epistolary romance with Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was the subject of her book The Same Solitude (Cornell, 2006). Tsvetaeva left Russia for Europe after the Bolshevik Revolution, and Ciepiela’s book follows the poets’ conversation across the widening divide separating Soviet Russia from émigré Russia, charting their changing relations to each other, to the political events of the period, and to literature itself. The book received the AATSEEL award for Best Book of Literary/Cultural Criticism in 2007, and a Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title.
Ciepiela publishes regularly on Russian modernism. With her co-editor Honor Moore, she framed a portrait of the movement in The Stray Dog Cabaret, an anthology of Russian modernist poetry in translations by Paul Schmidt. The volume appeared in the Classics series published by New York Review of Books and was shortlisted for a PEN Poetry in Translation prize. Readings from the book by contemporary American poets were hosted by the Baruch Center for the Performing Arts and Blacksmith House in Cambridge.
Ciepiela also publishes on contemporary Russian poetry. A student of Joseph Brodsky, she co-founded in his honor a Working Group on Contemporary Poetry, which for more than a decade gathered colleagues from Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, USC and other institutions to study non- and post-Soviet poets. She hosts a long-running Russian poetry series at Amherst, bringing to campus many of Russia’s major voices. She edited the anthology Relocations: Three Contemporary Women Poets (Zephyr, 2013), which was featured in the “European Voices” series at Boston University. Over the next four years, she will be participating in an international project on “Russian Poetry in Transition,” which will study how contemporary Russian poets mediate cultures of Europe, Asia and America.
Ciepiela works as a translator of Russian poetry. Her translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poetry have been supported by residencies at MacDowell and the Banff International Centre for Literary Translation, and they have appeared in The Nation, Seneca Review, The Common and elsewhere. She also translates the work of the contemporary poet Polina Barskova. Her translations of Barskova’s poetry have been published in anthologies and The Massachusetts Review, Spillway and Cosmonaut’s Avenue. She won a Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender prize in 2012 for her Barskova translation. She is affiliated with the Creative Writing Program, in which she offers a course on poetic translation, and she co-organized with Ilan Stavans the Copeland program for 2014-15, “Words in Transit: The Cultures of Translation.”
Sheis currently translating Barskova’s first book of poetic prose, for which the poet won Russia’s top literary prize in 2015. She also is working on a book about Tsvetaeva’s years living as an émigré in Paris (1925-1939). The book frames Tsvetaeva’s writings in the broad context of interwar European culture and politics, with the aim of bringing her into view as a modernist thinker of exceptional interest.
Recent and Forthcoming Publications
“History and Daddy: The Politics of Autobiographism in Polina Barskova’s ‘The Forgiver’,” Russian Literature (2016)
“Tsvetaevskii glaz Brodskogo,” in Лифшиц/Лосев/Loseff. Moscow: NLO, 2016.
Introduction, Marina Tsvetaeva, Letter to the Amazon. Trans. A’dora Phillips and Gaelle
Cogan. Eastern European Poets Series. Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Press, 2016.
“The Legacy of the Underground Poets.” Chapter 11 of Russian Literature since 1991. Eds. Evgeny
Dobrenko and Mark Lipovetsky. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015, 207-225.
“Going to the Source: on translating Polina Barskova,” in Cardinal Points, Vol. 4 (2015), 188-195.
Olga Berggolts, “The Agonizing Book of Joy and Sorrow,” in Masks: Diaries of the Soviet Artistic Elite of the 1930s. Eds. Caryl Emerson and Simon Morrison. Princeton: Princeton UP, forthcoming.
Polina Barskova, “First Morning,” Cosmonauts Avenue (May 2015)
Ph.D.(1992), Yale University, Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures
M.A. (1985), Yale University, Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures
B.A. (1983), AmherstCollege, summa cum laude