A Virtual Interview with Vasilina Orlova

Poet and novelist Vasilina Orlova will be the featured reader on Thursday, September 11 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for September’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


Vasilina Orlova was born in the village of Dunnai in the Russian Far East in 1979. She has lived in Vladivostok, Moscow, and London, and is now based in Austin, Texas. She is the recipient of several Russian literary awards and is an Anton Delvig Prize laureate for the poetry book Barefoot (2008).

Orlova holds a PhD in Philosophy and is the author of seven novels in Russian, among them The Voice of Fine Stillness, The Wilderness, and The Supper of a Praying Mantis. She has also published several books of prose and poetry, including Yesterday and Quartet.

Orlova’s poetry and prose have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, and Russian. She has written in English since 2012. In 2014, her new book of poetry, Contemporary Bestiary, was published by Gutenberg Printing Press Independent Group in Austin, Texas.

The Interview

CH: To write poetry in a language that is not your first language seems daunting. In which language do you do most of your writing? 

VO: Last year I enjoyed the flow of writing in English, then I asked myself why the ease with which it comes could not it be applied to Russian, and switched languages. Now I write in both. Prior to that for several years I was not able to write at all, which feels like being devoid of voice. After I moved to the US, I was surprised that I ceased to write altogether, but later I was graced with the renewed ability which surpassed, I think, the one I had previously. When you deal with the language that so many people were and are speaking, you deal with the very charged context, where every word is loaded with the wide-ranged associations.

CH: What is it like for you to be writing in English?

VO: It is a mind-blowing, on the very edge of sanity, experience. I feel that I am a medium and not a source of writing, but of course no superstition here—a trait of our consciousness is responsible for perceiving it this way. I enjoy English because it is so precise, lots of synonyms for every occasion. I think English is a perfect language for science and poetry. There are many English languages though, and some of them are less attractive than the other.

CH: How does your poetry relate to your works of fiction?

VO: One could be a commentary for other, if you wish. My fiction is quite un-fiction-like. What attracts me most is always the border between fiction and non-fiction, what kind of narration is possible there.

CH: What was your inspiration for Contemporary Bestiary?

VO: Contemporary Bestiary is the reflection on the first years of living in the US. Many things surprised me here. I read a wide variety of poetry, too,–from John Donne to Charles Bukowski. Vladimir Nabokov predictably captured my attention, as the Russian-born American writer—or, at least, he wanted to see himself this way—he was probably the best writer ever switching Russian and English.

CH: What are you working on now?

VO: I write a novel in English, and if I ever finish it, this would be my first novel in the language.

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