Mikhial Iossel

2004 EP. NO. 4
MIKHAIL IOSSEL is a novelist and essayist who writes both in English and Russian. Born in Leningrad, Iossel attended Leningrad Institute of Shipbuilding, USSR and received an MS in engineering. While he was an electromagnetic engineer and worked on the electrical defense systems of Russian submarines, in his spare time he wrote, but living in the Soviet Union, his activities in literature were hidden. Iossel belonged to an underground community of writers (“samizdat”) and used to work on clandestine literary magazines that were distributed throughout the country. As the Soviet Union was closed off to the outside world during the Communist era, a semi-official literary club Iossel belonged to depended on foreign visitors as a source of English-language books.

In 1980, Iossel applied to leave the Soviet Union. Six years later, he immigrated to the United States, determined to turn his passion for writing into a job. Soon, he soon realized he would not be able to support himself writing in Russian in the U.S. Learning to write in English was essential, and Iossel enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of New Hampshire.

Eventually he published a collection of short stories in English entitled Every Hunter Wants to Know (W.W.Norton, 1991), a collection of stories that have been translated into several languages. Iossel’s short stories provide an impressionistic picture of growing up in an increasingly cynical and malfunctioning Soviet Union. A number of his stories follow the life of a fictional character in many ways like himself – “but not quite.” Set in the Soviet Union and the United States, they’re layered stories, dealing with themes such as memory and moral choices. Iossel is also the co-editor of the essay collection, Amerika: Russian Writers View the United States (Dalkey Archive, 2004), edited with Jeff Parker. Amerika is a collection of essays by contemporary Russian writers who have a variety of things to say about the U.S. Many of the authors have studied or taught at American universities while others have translated American works or been published in American magazines. By and large, this is a book about the inherent differences and sameness of the Russian and American peoples. There is much discussion here of the myth of America, of perceived enormous wealth, plentiful guns, cowboys and Indians, the hugeness of the oceans and, of course, Hollywood. One suspects a similar list would exist if American authors wrote about Russia and similar surprises as those myths were quickly and easily dispelled. Iossel has also published in literary magazines in the US and abroad, which was translated into several foreign languages, and was anthologized in Best American Short Stories and elsewhere.

After receiving an MA degree in English/Creative Writing from the University of New Hampshire, Iossel was awarded a Wallace Stegner fellowship in fiction at Stanford University. Recipient of the NEA (1993) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1999), he subsequently taught creative writing, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels, at the University of Minnesota, New York University, the New School, St. Lawrence University, Union College, and was Faculty Director of the Petersburg Writers’ Workshop, as well as in a number of literary conferences in the US and abroad. He is currently an Associate Professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal.

Iossel is the founder and director of Summer Literary Seminars (SLS), a non-profit organization that provides graduate and undergraduate credit for students taking seminars/courses in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nairobi, Kenya and the United States. SLS is one of the world’s largest international writing conferences in the world, and their website is at www.sumlitsem.org. He is currently at work on a collection of stories about underground literature during the 1970s and 1980s in the USSR.

Last updated 2009.

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