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 Venedikt Erofeyev

Born:   October 24, 1938
Deceased:   May 11, 1990

Russian writer, dramatist and essayist, internationally famous as the author of the poem in prose Moscow-Petushki".


Venedikt Vasilyevich Erofeyev was born in the railroad station Poyakonda in the Murmansk Region. His father Vasily Vasilyevich Erofeyev, a stationmaster, fell under Stalinist repressions and served his term in gulag camps from 1939 to 1954. The mother along could not provide for the family and Venichka with his brother spent several years in an orphanage in Kirovsk town of the Cola Peninsula till their father’s return.

The boy finished school with gold medal and came to Moscow to enter the Philology Faculty of Moscow State University. A year and a half later, however, he was expelled for not attending compulsory military training courses. Later he tried to complete his higher education in Orekhovo-Zuevo, Kolomna and Vladimir Teachers’ Training Institutes, but was also expelled from all of them in turn, for “moral degeneracy”, the term often applied to freethinkers in those years. From 1958 to 1975 he lived without any residence registration, worked as a shop loader in Kolomna town, a bricklayer’s apprentice and a receiver of used wine bottles in Moscow, a stoker in Vladimir, a militia desk sergeant in Orekhovo-Zuevo, a driller in a geological party in Ukraine, a librarian in Bryansk, a telephone cable layer in various cities of Russia, Lithuania and Byelorussia (which found reflection in the plot of the poem «Moscow-Petushki»), a laboratory assistant of a parasitological expedition in Uzbekistan, and an expedition in Karelia. The writer was married twice and had one son.

Since youth Venedikt showed extraordinary memory, erudition and love for literature. As a 17 year-old youth he already wrote ‘Zapiski psikhopata” (“The Notes of a Psychopath”). In 1970 Erofeyev completed his poem in prose “Moscow-Petushki”, which was first published in the Israel almanac AMI in 1973. The poem saw its first official release in the USSR in December 1988 - March 1989 in the “Trezvost i Kultura” (Temperance and Culture) magazine, with lots of censorship ellipses. Its more or less complete and uncensored text was first issued in the almanac Vest’ in 1989. The poem has several English translations, namely “Moscow to the End of the Line”, “Moscow Circles”, and “Moscow Stations”. In this work as well as in his others the author tends to surrealism and literary buffoonery.

Apart from “The Notes of a Psychopath” and “Moscow-Petushki” Erofeyev wrote the play “The Walpurgis Night or Steps of the Commodore”, the essay “Vasily Rozanov glazami ekstsentrika” (translated as Vasily Rozanov Through the Eyes of an Eccentric) and “Blagaya Vest” (something like “the Gospel”), a work beyond any genre classification, as well as a selection of Lenin’s quotations under the title “Moya malenkaya Leniniana” [My Little Leniniana]. The play “Dissidenty, ili Fanni Kaplan” (The Dissidents, or Fanny Kaplan) remained unfinished because of the author’s incurable disease. The writer’s Diaries where partly published after his death. In 1992 the journal Theatre issued Erofeyev’s letters to his sister Tamara Gushchina.

According to Erofeyev, in 1972 he wrote the novel “Shostakovich”, the draft manuscript of which was stolen in a suburban train, together with a string bag also including two bottles of plonk. In 1994 Vladislav Lyon announced that he had been keeping the manuscript all that time and would soon publish it. However, only a small excerpt of the allegedly Erofeyev’s novel was published. Most of the critics consider this fragment to be a fake.

In 1985 Venedikt Erofeyev was baptized in the St. Ludwig Church, the only operating Catholic Church in Moscow at that time. His godfather was his close friend, the philologist Vladimir Muravyov.

In the late years of his life Erofeyev suffered from the cancer of the throat. The writer died on 11 May 1990 in Moscow and was buried at Kuntsevskoe Cemetery. Venedikt Erofeyev monument can be found in Struggle Square in Moscow; it depicts the two main characters of “Moscow-Petushki” – Venichka and his beloved woman, standing apart – and bears quotations from the poem. His memorial plate was mounted on the building of the Teachers’ Training Institute in Vladimir.

Books by Venedikt Erofeyev have been translated into more than 30 languages. Pawel Pawlikowski shot the documentary From Moscow to Pietushki (1989—1991) about him.

Tags: Russian literature Russian writers Venedikt Erofeyev   

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