USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2014 Citation Recipient

Jane T. Costlow

The University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Jane T. Costlow
Title: Heart-Pine Russia: Walking and Writing the Nineteenth-Century Forest (Cornell University Press)

This profound, moving, and fully realized study treats the human relationship to the Northern European Russian forest within the complex cultural context of the nineteenth century and the Silver Age.  The Russian forest is a physical landscape and an important economic resource, and as such, Costlow knows it well.  But she also shows us the Russian forest as a potent cultural and symbolic site.  Costlow opens up the Russian forest to her readers as an imaginary and mythic geography figuring in both pagan and Russian Orthodox traditions, vital to Russian peasant culture, folklore, and local knowledge.  And the Russian forest has been no less important as the beloved object of artistic representation in Russian literature and fine arts. Costlow argues persuasively that the forest is central to Russian national and spiritual identity.

Costlow deftly incorporates many different artistic and social discourses in a book that will be compelling to anyone interested in eco-criticism and cultural space.  She offers rich readings of fiction and artistic images, juxtaposing these with writings from “thick journals” and other forms of public discourse, personal accounts, and scientific environmental materials.  While Costlow’s study features major figures such as writers Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev, and painters Ivan Shishkin and Ilya Repin, she also gives us lesser known but equally important voices such as Pavel Mel’nikov, Vladimir Korolenko, Mikhail Nesterov, and Dmitri Kaigorodov, the last a forester and natural historian who wrote for a broad public.  Her book’s strongly written introduction and conclusion also sample works of literature, art, and film from Soviet and even post-Soviet times.

A professor of Environmental Studies as well as a Russian literary scholar, Costlow has made a major contribution to the field of Slavic with her pathbreaking and deeply insightful study.