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Tolstoy Festival To Be Held Oct. 22

Published: October 15, 2010

The Leo Tolstoy Centennial Festival will be held on campus on Friday, Oct. 22 and Saturday, Oct. 23, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Pyramid Annex Building. Plus, a Biennial Gala Dinner will be held to benefit the Russian Studies Endowment on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach at 5450 E. Atherton St. Admission to the dinner is $50 per person but admission to the festival is free.

Also, on Sunday, Oct. 24, by the joint efforts of the Long Beach-Sochi Sister City Association and the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, the celebration of Tolstoy’s memory will include lunch at the law offices of Keesal, Young & Logan and a presentation at the Art Theater on 4th St of the recent movie “The Last Station” about the last days of the writer’s life.

The Centennial Festival will commemorate 100 years since Tolstoy’s death, said Harold Schefski, a member of the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department since 1986. The leader of the Russian Studies Program expects the century mark will be an important cultural event for Greater Los Angeles and a tribute to this eminent 19th century Russian writer. In broader terms, he said, the festival carries on a tradition of Russian literature festivals every second year at CSULB beginning with the Pushkin Festival in 2006 and the Dostoyevsky Festival in 2008.

The writer’s great-great-grandson, Vladimir Ilyich Tolstoy, presently the director of the Tolstoy Museum at this family estate at Yasnaya Polyana, will be the festival’s special guest. He will engage in a special feature of the program “Tolstoy Reads Tolstoy” and participate in round-table discussions.

Also on hand will be Russian sectarian specialist Andrei Conovaloff who will talk about Tolstoy’s connection to the Dukhobors and the Molokans.

“The latter group is well represented here in Southern California, especially in Whittier and Montebello,” said Schefski. “Through the monetary support of Tolstoy and the Tolstoy Foundation, religious sectarians who were experiencing religious persecution were able to leave and settle in Canada and the U.S.”

Schefski, who recently authored an article in the magazine Russian Life titled “Tolstoys Taking Sides” detailing the hundreds of surviving family members, explained that the surviving Tolstoy will be accompanied by his two daughters who speak excellent English.

The first day’s session on Oct. 22, will explore the writer’s life and screen the recent film “Chronicle” followed by roundtable discussions. The day continues with screenings and discussions of excerpts from two film interpretations of War and Peace. The second day, Oct. 23, will explore his novel Anna Karenina by presenting the newest version of this masterpiece directed by Sergey Solovyov. After a discussion, excerpts from the 1972 Russian ballet film featuring Maya Plisetskaya will screen.

The entire festival organization is a joint program of CSULB’s Russian Studies Program and the Long Beach Sochi Sister City Association. It is made possible through substantial donations by Irene Berkeley, Gail Hutton, Beverly August, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Orloff and CSULB University Library Dean Roman Kochan.

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy

“Small programs need to have the ability to sponsor events like this,” said Schefski. “We have raised $60,000 in the last 10 years. It’s a major feat. What that allows the program to do is to offer $2,500 a year for student scholarships without touching the principal and we want to go further.”

Schefski will offer a presentation on Oct. 22 focusing on Tolstoy as the first media celebrity. “In the last few years of his life, he was followed by paparazzi just as celebrities are followed today,” Schefski explained. “Technology in last years of his life achieved a certain level thanks to Thomas Edison. Those advances allowed the paparazzi to focus on Tolstoy. He had all the qualities of a perfect celebrity. He looked like a genius and had plenty of contradictions. From there it is a straight line to Churchill, Gandhi and all the American celebrities including Elvis and Oprah.”

The Russian Studies Program may be small but it is powerful. “Its strengths include a minor in the language and the fact that the program sends students to Russia every other summer,” said Schefski. “We also send students to the new Strategic Languages Institute at CSU Northridge. That way, students can go free to Russia after training. It is all part of keeping the study of Russian going at CSULB. We want to leave a legacy. We don’t want the program to die when the current faculty members retire. We want something else to be there and we believe we have helped.”

Schefski encourages other CSULB faculty members to plan programs like the Tolstoy Festival. “Our primary theme here is forging a program-community connection and that’s my advice to the campus community,” he said. “Find community members who are sympathetic towards what you’re doing. The big thing is collaboration between the university and the community. That’s what we focus on. Small programs cannot exist without community support.”

–Richard Manly