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Between Moscow and Baku: National Literatures at the 1934 Congress of Soviet Writers


The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 reminded many that "Soviet" and "Russian" were not synonymous, but this distinction continues to be overlooked when discussing Soviet literature. Like the Soviet Union, Soviet literature was a consciously multinational, multiethnic project. This dissertation approaches Soviet literature in its broadest sense - as a cultural field incorporating texts, institutions, theories, and practices such as writing, editing, reading, canonization, education, performance, and translation. It uses archival materials to analyze how Soviet literary institutions combined Russia's literary heritage, the doctrine of socialist realism, and nationalities policy to conceptualize the national literatures, a term used to define the literatures of the non-Russian peripheries. It then explores how such conceptions functioned in practice in the early 1930s, in both Moscow and Baku, the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan. Although the debates over national literatures started well before the Revolution, this study focuses on 1932-34 as the period when they crystallized under the leadership of the Union of Soviet Writers. It examines how the vision of the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers grew during its planning process, so that the ultimate event in 1934 was a two-week performance celebrating Soviet literature as multinational. It then looks to the Azerbaijani delegation to that Congress as an example of how non-Russian nationalities interpreted and negotiated Moscow's broad policies. Azerbaijan is a useful case study as it incorporates a changing national identity, a multilingual literary heritage, an ethnically diverse urban proletariat, the pan-Turkic movement, and issues of religious versus ethnic identity.

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