Kenneth Pushkin: I got to Alexander Sergeevich through Alaska

Alexander Pushkin The Father of Russian Literature

Kenneth Pushkin: I got to Alexander Sergeevich through Alaska

Kenneth Pushkin: &# 171; I got to Alexander Sergeevich through Alaska&# 187;

Interview of an American ethnographer and collector to the Russian Service &# 171; Voices of America&# 187;

The city of Santa Fe in the state of New Mexico is one of the Pushkin centers in the United States. There is a Pushkin Foundation, there is a Pushkin Art Gallery. There is also an explanation for this. Here, in one of the oldest and most exotic cities in the United States, founded by the Spaniards back in 1610, his American Pushkin lives. On the eve of the birthday of the great Russian poet Kenneth Alan Pushkin gave an interview to the correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America”.

Vadim Massalsky: Kenneth, I’m going to have to ask a question that you may be tired of answering. And yet: in what relationship are you with Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin?

Kenneth Pushkin: Oh, exploring my family tree can easily take the whole time of our conversation (laughs). I’m afraid this will tire readers quickly. In short, I am not a direct descendant of Alexander Sergeevich, but we have common ancestors on the paternal side in the 18th century. They were brothers. And my family is directly related to the noble family of the Rzhevskys, who were just in direct kinship with the Pushkins.

V.M .: You’ve probably heard that in Russia Lieutenant Rzhevsky is a folklore character, jokes about him are still circulating?

K.P .: Yes, I’ve heard about it. But, as you probably know, this fictional character of literature, cinema, theater, folklore had a real historical prototype. (The first Rzhevsky to hold the rank of lieutenant was Yuri Alexandrovich, who studied maritime affairs in Italy by the Decree of Peter I. Y. Rzhevsky was one of the great-great-grandfathers of A.S. Pushkin – approx. the author).

My own grandfather, Isaac Pushkin, left Russia after the revolution. He fought in the White Army, then came to America through China. I was born in Baltimore. In the 20th century, my family lost touch with Russia and lost the Russian language. True, as a child I was told that the Russian poet Pushkin is our distant relative. But I must confess that I was little interested in this. In America, you won’t surprise anyone with the surname Pushkin, few people know it, and then, during the Cold War, they were wary of ties with Russia in the United States….

V.M .: But how then did you show interest in the personality of Alexander Sergeevich?

K.P .: Shown through my interest in Eskimo culture…

V.M .: You are joking?

K.P .: No, I’m serious. After all, I am an ethnographer by profession. For many years I lived in Alaska, studied the culture of the Eskimos and other peoples of the Arctic. A couple of times I even had to accidentally cross the Soviet border. Once it happened during our sea whale hunt, another time on an airplane – in a terrible bad weather, when we lost our way. These were unintentional border violations. But now I understand that it could have ended very tragically – after all, there was a “cold war”.

V.M .: That is, you discovered Russia through the Bering Strait and Chukotka?

K.P .: That’s it. And Pushkin too. In 1992, when the Cold War ended, I already officially visited Chukotka, Provideniya Bay. There I met Russian scientists. They were amazed to learn the story of my family. They began to tell that in Russia every person knows Pushkin. One of the scientists, an excellent expert on Eskimo culture, Mikhail Bronstein, invited me to visit him in Moscow. And already there I met Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin, with whom we became friends.

V.M .: In what sense did you become friends?

K.P .: In the most direct. I’m talking about the modern Russian Rear Admiral, unfortunately, the already deceased commander-submariner, Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin, the founder of the international Pushkin Society. He was a wonderful person: smart, educated, sincere. He sang, painted, wrote poetry, spoke excellent English and French. When I got to his Moscow apartment, he at first glance recognized me as his own: “This is the real Pushkin!”.

Kenneth Pushkin and Admiral Pushkin

The admiral became for me a kind of “godfather” in Russia, completely unfamiliar and incomprehensible to me. Thanks to him, I visited many Pushkin places: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Mikhailovsky, Boldino. The admiral also inspired me to become a collector of contemporary Russian painting. And now I have a Pushkin Gallery in Santa Fe – a magnificent collection of paintings by Russian artists of the 20th century.

Kenneth Pushkin and Boris Nemtsov in Boldino. 1995 year.

V.M .: In the Pushkin family, you can find talented people in various fields of art. Your hobby is painting?

K.P .: Not only. I compose music in the style of jazz, blues, pop, write songs. I burn my CDs. But this, as they say, is for the soul, not for sale and not for fame. But if you want, I can give you a listen and watch my videos.

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V.M .: What are your favorite works of Pushkin??

K.P .: Of course, “Eugene Onegin”. True, I only read it in English. But on the other hand, in a variety of translations. For example, in the translations of Walter Arndt and Vladimir Nabokov.

V.M .: Kenneth, you don’t read Russian at all?

K.P .: Alas. I don’t read and hardly speak, but sometimes I sing and I still remember some of Pushkin’s lines. These are, for example: “I remember a wonderful moment …”

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V.M .: You’ve probably read Pushkin’s prose.

K.P .: Yes, I read The Captain’s Daughter. And also my Pushkin Foundation produced the production of a musical based on this story to the music of a very popular Russian composer Andrei Petrov. Famous Broadway actors participated in the musical. We staged our musical in Boston and then at the Hermitage Theater in St. Petersburg. At that time, the US Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow specially came to our premiere in St. Petersburg from Moscow..

Alexander Vershbow and Kenneth Pushkin

V.M .: And now your fund continues to work in Russia?

K.P .: Now, unfortunately, his activities had to be curtailed. After restrictive measures were taken in Russia against Western non-profit organizations, the so-called foreign agents, I realized that I could hardly work normally, I would have to deal with reporting alone. You know, bureaucracy in any country is a problem. But in Russia this can turn into a big problem. All the more so if politics is added to this…

But in the United States, my foundation continues to operate. I have a lot of archival work. From time to time I organize exhibitions at my Pushkin Gallery, and we also hold events together in the Russian-speaking community of New Mexico and with a local university. My most recent and important initiative on the subject of “Pushkin Legacy” is participation in the UN Human Rights Project, which promotes international goodwill through art. Every December in Geneva, within the framework of this project, a concert takes place in the Great Hall of the United Nations Palace. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many cultural projects are being postponed, but we are still optimistic..

V.M .: How do you celebrate June 6, the birthday of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin? This year the great Russian poet turned 221.

K.P .: I celebrate it at home and in a family way (laughs). There are still restrictions related to the outbreak of coronavirus. On this Saturday I worked in my garden, looking after my Pushkin archive. There are still a lot of materials that need to be digitized. Yes, even on this day I usually try to call my friends-Pushkinists in other countries, in Russia first of all. Relations between our two countries are not the best right now. But I would like to do something else important, useful for preserving Pushkin’s legacy. I think the great Russian poet Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin deserves this in the 21st century..

  • Vadim Massalsky

    Journalist, blogger, specializes in the topic of US-Russian relations

     

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