Born in Novosibirsk, he graduated from the acting department of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. After a brief career as an actor, he returned to university to study filmmaking as a graduate student, defending his graduate thesis on pantomime. He wrote and directed a play, The Enchanted Island, for the Moscow Theater of Mimicry and Gesture. He led the pantomime studio of the Moskvorechye Workers' Club, and choreographed the rock band Last Chance. He died of a heart attack on Pushkin Street in Moscow, one day after completing the manuscript of his play Under House Arrest, which would not be published until seven years after his death. He was buried in Novosibirsk and posthumously awarded the Andrei Bely Prize.
Among the few works Kharitonov published openly during his lifetime were several translations of contemporary German language poetry, including that of the Austrian Ingeborg Bachmann. Most of his works were circulated in samizdat periodicals such as Hours, Bypass Channel, 37, and Mitin Journal.
Kharitonov's work lies at the convergence of several currents in 20th century Russian prose. His emphasis on the distance between author and lyric subject anticipates Victor Erofeyev and Vladimir Sorokin; and he shares with Pavel Ulitin (and with Proust and Joyce) a cryptographic, indirect approach to the encoding of emotion in events. He had a peculiarly acute awareness of the expressive properties of typewritten text. His preoccupation with typography, and his resulting mistrust of samizdat typists, may account for the fact that he typed all his manuscripts himself. It has also been conjectured that his frank descriptions of gay life so offended the typists' sensibilities that they refused to copy his manuscripts.
Above all, Kharitonov is recognized as a founder of modern Russian gay literature, and arguably the most important gay Russian writer since Mikhail Kuzmin. His work is inseparable from his sexuality, its legal and cultural prohibition, and its psychological dimension. As an underground writer and a gay man, he was doubly vulnerable to state repression, and had frequent encounters with the KGB. In 1979, he was questioned as a suspect in the murder of a gay friend. As his literary star rose, the surveillance and harassment increased, and may have contributed to his fatal heart attack. Following his death, his apartment was sealed by the KGB. In order to preserve his writings, his friends broke in and stole whatever manuscripts they could, but most were later recovered by the KGB.
Under House Arrest by Yevgeny Kharitonov
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (January 1, 1997)
Amazon: Under House Arrest
A collection of Kharitonov's autobiographical fictions, using his experiences as a homosexual to provide insight into Soviet society.
When Kharitonov sticks to the emotional nuances of men obsessed with love ... the stories have a tortured, captivating sadness and beauty. -- The New York Times Book Review, Vesna Neskow
Out of the Blue: Russia's Hidden Gay Literature edited by Kevin Moss
Paperback: 418 pages
Publisher: Gay Sunshine Press (November 1996)
Amazon: Out of the Blue: Russia's Hidden Gay Literature
Moss (Russian language and literature, Middlebury Coll.) has undertaken the daunting task of assembling poetry, short fiction, and other 19th- and 20th-century Russian gay literature and making both text and context accessible to the general reader. He succeeds for the most part, though he fails in the sections that cover the pre-Soviet period. Here, Moss includes excerpts of works that barely give the reader enough plot and characterization to make them enjoyable - a bit like a college literature anthology. Then, after about 120 pages, the whole feel of the collection changes, and it becomes quite a page turner. Even with its faults, this collection does leave the reader with an understanding of how it was, and still is, to be gay in Russia. Recommended for Russian literature and comprehensive gay literature collections.
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