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Valeria Sobol

Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Illinois

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

I grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine, and was a passionate reader since childhood. For ten years, I attended a secondary school named after Pushkin, which had a strong emphasis on studying Russian literature and culture. So, when the time came for me to decide what discipline to pursue at the university, Russian language and literature was a natural choice. I graduated from Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University with a degree in “Russian Philology” (Russian language and literature) in 1994. There I also received a solid training in Ukrainian and Western European literatures. The same year I moved to New York and started my graduate studies at Columbia University where I also took courses in Czech language and literature. But my primary interest was nineteenth-century Russian literature, especially poetry.

Have your interests changed since then?

Yes and no. I still primarily research and teach nineteenth-century Russian literature, although prose occupies a more central place in my work now than poetry. Besides, I have developed a strong interest in eighteenth-century Russian literature which I teach regularly at the University of Illinois and which I have included in my research agenda as well. Finally, being in a Slavic department in the US (rather than in a more specialized Russian department in Ukraine) has made me less Russocentric as a scholar. While at Columbia, I developed a Ph.D. minor in Ukrainian literature and soon after Sobol bookgraduation, I published an article on Czech literature. My current book project has a significant Ukrainian component, which was not the case with my first book, Febris Erotica: Lovesickness in the Russian Literary Imagination that only engaged the Russian and West European material. 

What is your current research project?

I am working on a book tentatively titled Haunted Empire: The Russian Literary Gothic and the Imperial Uncanny, which examines Russian-language Gothic literature in its imperial context. Arguing against the prevailing view of the Russian Gothic as an imitation of the popular Western literary trend, I reestablish this body of literature as a key genre that dramatizes uniquely Russian imperial anxieties and concerns (e.g., Russia’s fluid boundaries, cultural dependence on the West, and the clash between imperial and national identities) and offers a powerful critique of empire. I have been fortunate to receive a number of grants for this project, including the NEH summer stipend and 12-month fellowship. 

What do you value about your ASEEES membership? 

The interdisciplinary nature of this organization is extremely valuable to me. Being able to attend panels outside of my immediate field or those that bring different disciplines together at the annual convention has been very enriching for my professional development.  

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I love to travel, play piano (when I have time), play tennis (not that well but I enjoy it), swim, walk my dog. My family is very important to me, of course. I make sure my two daughters grow up bilingual and get to experience a larger, diverse world. 

Valeria Sobol’s first book, Febris Erotica: Lovesickness in the Russian Literary Imagination