I’m the Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies (and also for Linguistics) and the Instruction Coordinator for the Charles E. Young Research Library at the University of California, Los Angeles. I develop and manage the library’s collections in the areas of the social sciences and humanities relating to Russia, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe. I’m the subject specialist for Slavic studies and provide reference and research assistance to faculty and students and to the research community at large. And I collaborate with other librarians and staff on projects, programming, services, instruction and other scholarly activities.
Before coming to UCLA, I taught (from 2004-2011) in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. I designed and taught graduate courses on Modernism and contemporary Russian literature; undergraduate courses on Russian film, Central European literature, and “Amerika through Russian Eyes”; and first-year Polish. Teaching – helping students learn, and learning so much from them in turn – is the best, most rewarding, most inspiring job I’ve ever had. Lucky for me, librarians do a lot of teaching!
As far as what I study goes, Russia has fascinated me since my freshman year in college. I decided to take Russian to fulfill my foreign language requirement because it intrigued me (completely different alphabet!) and because it felt just a tiny bit dangerous (it was still the Cold War, after all). It also turned out to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. My first trip to Russia was so exhilarating and terrifying and astonishing…I felt like I’d lived more in those four months of my junior year than I had in two years at Berkeley. Even now, I tell students who are thinking about going to Russia, “You can go to Europe and have a nice time, like everybody else. If you go to Russia, you’re going to come back with stories.”
By the time I got to graduate school, I had stopped imagining that I could ever really understand Russia completely, but I had developed kind of an obsessive interest in the 1910s and 20s. Futurism, Constructivism, Formalism, Revolution, Civil War. Ideas were more important than food, art could change the world, devices were being laid bare, the familiar was being made strange, and Mayakovsky was smoking hot.
I still have that thing for the 1910s and 20s, after more trips to Russia and time spent in archives and libraries. Literary culture, children’s literature, film, recipes for primus stoves…
Several trips to Poland – what started out as a degree requirement became much more – sparked an abiding interest in contemporary Polish literature. The process of writing through transition, whether the Russian revolution and Civil War, or the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc, is a phenomenon I want to keep thinking about.
Other things: Words thrill me. (In part, the legacy of my Greek father, who could find the etymological joy in almost any word. Greek fathers are like that.) Working on a translation from Russian or from Polish into English is more absorbing and stimulating and challenging and rewarding than just about anything else I can think of. I can lose myself for hours in a book. Wit is a gift beyond price. I don’t have enough of it, but I am so happy to find it in other people. I like to make things out of food, fabric, paper. And sometimes music is the only thing I want to fill my head.
I have catalogs of likes and dislikes that verge on the Homeric, and I once listed “25 things about me” back when it was a raging meme. There are also some social media I post to, if you’re interested.
If you’re curious about anything else, let me know?
MBH = my initials in Russian
Маргарита Васильевна Нафпактитис