This book brings together a lifetime of experiences told by a beloved member of the field of Slavic languages and literature - Irwin Weil. During the Soviet era, Irwin frequently visited and corresponded with leading members of Russia's intelligentsia, including prominent emigres such as Vladimir Nabokov, Korney Chukovsky, and Dmitrii Shostakovich. His deep love of the Russian people and their culture has touched the lives of countless students, in particular at Northwestern University, where he has taught since 1966. It is these stories of an unassuming Jewish American from Cincinnati, Ohio who rubbed shoulders with some of the most prominent thinkers, writers, and musicians in the Soviet Union that are presented for the first time in this volume.
Irwin Weil was born in 1928 in Cincinnati, Ohio of German Jewish and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. His father Sidney was a former owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Initially majoring in economics at the University of Chicago, he was drawn to Slavic studies after discovering Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov in a required literature course and being (in his words) knocked for a loop. He reports that he ran to a bookstore, picked up a copy of Crime and Punishment, read it in two days, and resolved to learn the language of such a great body of literature. Weil received his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1948 and his masters degree in Slavic Studies in 1951. After three years of working on a Soviet census for the U.S. Library of Congress, Weil began his PhD at Harvard University, where he had received a Ford Foundation fellowship to work toward his doctorate in Slavic Studies. After receiving the degree in 1960, he taught at Brandeis University. While at Brandeis, Weil was a professor of Russian literature and linguistics. He was influential in the development and growth of the Slavic Studies program at Brandeis. Weils first major work a dissertation on the development of the writing style of Maksim Gorky was completed in 1958. His other works include Notes on the Contemporary Soviet Literary Scene and Literary Activities. Tony Brown is an Associate Professor of Russian at Brigham Young University where he has taught since 2004. Brown received his MA and PhD degrees in Russian and Second Language Acquisition at Bryn Mawr College. His research interests include second language acquisition, language policy, and the cultural history of Russia. Brown also is the author/co-author of articles published in venues, such as Modern Language Journal, Foreign Language Annals, Slavic and East European Journal, Russian Language Journal, and Language Policy. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the American Council of Teachers of Russian.