Who was Sergei Dovlatov?
Sergei Dovlatov was a Russian writer and journalist who emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York in 1979 to escape KGB harassment. He settled in Forest Hills, Queens with his wife, daughter and mother. A year after Dovlatov’s arrival, his short stories started to appear in The New Yorker, his writing transcended beyond Russian audience. Sergei Dovlatov had a keen eye for the absurdities of life, humor and bittersweet irony. The new home allowed Dovlatov to follow his passion of writing and to publish some of his famous works, such as The Suitcase, The Zone, and Ours: A Family Album. His books quickly gained fame and were translated into English, as well as all of the world’s major languages, so that millions of readers could enjoy them. In his book, A Foreign Woman, he wrote about the very same Russian community of emigrants where he resided in Forest Hills. In 1980, Dovlatov co-founded one of the largest Russian weekly newspapers in New York City. Sergei Dovlatov had accomplished a great deal in his short time in New York, before his untimely death in 1990.
Why did we launch our campaign?
It all started with an idea of a memorial plaque. A year ago, we have approached the co-op board of the building where Sergei Dovlatov has resided in Forest Hills and requested to place a plaque to celebrate our hero. Similar plaques are installed on the buildings where the writer lived in Tallinn, Estonia; Ufa and St. Petersburg, Russia.
We read Dovlatov in the evenings, watched biographical documentaries and mused at Sergei’s witty depictions of 108th street residents. On November 25, 2013, our plan came to fruition when the board voted in favor of the memorial plaque.
We were inspired to think bigger. To commemorate Dovlatov’s legacy, to show appreciation for his talent, and to express the enormous gratitude from his readers, we have asked New York City Council member Karen Koslowitz to add “Sergei Dovlatov Way” to 63rd Drive street sign. The city will be making the decision on co-naming the street this year.
Why you should sign this petition?
There is not a single Russian writer honored with a street name in New York City. Let’s start with Sergei Dovlatov and Forest Hills, Queens.
Sign this petition because you are a fan of Russian culture and literature, have a Russian friend, or you are an emigrant like us who dreams big.
Sergei Dovlatov expressed the fear of dwindling Russian readership. If you have never heard of Dovlatov before, we hope we inspired you to get acquainted with his work. If you are like us – love Russian literature and enjoy watching Soviet classical movies – we urge you to sign the petition.
Please help us honor one of the most important Russian writers of the 20th century. With “Sergei Dovlatov Way”, let’s memorialize all the Russian writers that emigrated from Soviet Union to find freedom of the pen.
What did Brodsky and Vonnegut say about Dovlatov?
Joseph Brodsky, 1987 Nobel Prize winner and 1991 Poet Laureate of the U.S., said of Dovlatov, “He is the only Russian writer whose works will be read all the way through” and that: “The decisive thing is his tone, which every member of a democratic society can recognize: the individual who won’t let himself be cast in the role of a victim, who is not obsessed with what makes him different.”
Kurt Vonnegut, an American writer, author of such iconic works as the Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five, and honorary president of the American Humanist Association, wrote to Dovlatov: “Dear Sergei Dovlatov! I love you too, but you have broken my heart. I was born in this country and fearlessly served it during the war, but I still haven’t managed to sell a single story of mine to The New Yorker. And now you come, and—bang!—your story is published at once…. I expect much from you and your work. You’ve got talent, which you are ready to give away to this mad country. We are happy you are here.”