contemporary female Russian novelists
Although men have dominated the literary canon in Russia for hundreds of years, there are many women who have made their names known writing contemporary Russian literature. Here are ten female Russian writers whose work you must read:
Fans of crime novels will enjoy Alexandra Marinina’s wonderfully complex detective stories, of which there are plenty. Drawing from her experiences of over two decades as a police officer and criminology researcher, her novels delve deep into the criminal psyche.
Her books are all intertwined, but mainly focus around a central character named Anastasia ‘Nastya’ Kamenskaya. Eight of the books featuring this character have been adapted into a popular Russian TV series, called Kamenskaya, and her work has earned her a plethora of awards.
Lyudmila Ulitskaya has been publishing excellent novels since 1992, after her first novella Sonechka, garnered her immediate acclaim and popularity. Shortlisted for the first Russian Booker Prize that year, which she did not win, she later went on to become the first woman to be awarded the Russian Booker Prize a decade later with The Kukotsky Enigma.
Her work explores difficult themes such as religion, the Holocaust and her own Jewish identity, and has won her prizes across the world, from Austria to China — she was even shortlisted for the International Booker Prize.
Anna Starobinets’ first book was a collection of dark and unsettling short stories, aptly called An Awkward Age, and her second offering, a dystopian novel called The Living offers a similarly dark and satirical take.
Her work launched her into fame in Russia, as she uses her writing to question society and the ways in which technology plays a role in our lives. Fans of the TV show Black Mirror will love her work.
Fantasy novelist Ekaterina Sedia is most famous for her steampunk novel The Alchemy of Stone. The book garnered Sedia much praise and she was nominated for several fantasy writing awards.
Her work is known for tackling the difficult issues of class and sexism with grace and empathy. She is also the editor of an anthology of speculative fiction, Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, which won her a World Fantasy Award. Alongside her rich literary career, Sedia is also a plant scientist and an academic.
Hailing from the often misunderstood Russian Republic of Dagestan, Alisa Ganieva writes about her heritage and her experiences of being ‘othered’ by her countrymen.
Her debut novella, Salaam for you, Dalgat, won her the Debut Young Writers Prize and fame. Her second book, called The Groom and The Bride, also explores Dagestani identity. Ganieva writes about the realities of being caught between different cultures in Russia, and what it means to be ‘too Russian’ for her family and friends in her hometown, but not ‘Russian enough’ for people in Moscow.
New York Times Bestselling Writer; Artist; Poet; Playwright; Cabaret Performer: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya has been many things during her long and illustrious career, but she is most definitely one of Russia’s most-loved contemporary writers.
She was once referred to as ‘Russia’s last great living writer’, and her body of work speaks for itself. She has won numerous awards, in Russia and elsewhere for her writing, both poetry and prose and her art has been exhibited across Europe.
Growing up the daughter of a literary critic, Maria Rybakova was always surrounded by literature. She would go on to gain a number of degrees in literature and classics, including a PhD in classics from Yale University.
One of Rybakova’s early short stories won her the Sergei Dovlatov Award for Best Russian Language Short Story in 2004. Since then, she has published several novels, and is a literary critic, contributing to the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Olga Slavnikova hails from the Urals, and is one of the region’s finest writers. Slavnikova’s work explores a dark kind of comedy and elements of magic realism.
She has been publishing novels consistently for over two decades, and having become a winner of the Russian Booker prize in 2006 for her novel 2017, has been passionately advocating for the next generation of Russian writers. She mentors new writers and is the director of the Debut Independent Literary Prize in Russia.
Elena Chiznova’s novel The Time of Women is one which took the Russian literary scene by storm. The book, which centres around a young deaf girl raised by three much older women in a communal apartment in Leningrad, was praised for the way it portrayed the rich inner lives of women and their everyday experiences. She won the 2009 Russian Booker Prize for her novel, and it has been translated into a number of other languages.
Marina Stepnova’s work is widely read for good reason. In 2011, Stepnova’s second novel, The Women of Lazarus was published and it was an instant success. Since then, the book — set over the course of a century and drawing together a series of stories about a family — has been translated into 23 languages.
For her first novel, Surgeon, which also garnered Stepnova critical acclaim, she drew on her experience as a former nurse on a cancer ward. Her work is considered some of the finest literary fiction from a contemporary Russian writer.
Cover: Khadia Ulumbekova