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In March of 1990, a bizarre confluence of events – involving two gung-ho Norwegians, one Vermonter tangling with Young Communists, and a Californian with ink in his blood – led to the founding of a small publishing company in Vermont. The company's initial goal was to produce books, maps and information for people traveling to Russia. It has since morphed into the publisher of the only English language periodical on the world's largest country, and one of the most prolific publishers of Russian literature in English translation.
The company's original partners, Paul E. Richardson and David F. Kelley, authored the company's first book, Moscow Business Survival Guide. This later became the renowned Russia Business Survival Guide (subsequently published in seven annual editions, including one translated into Korean) and spun off the cult hits Where in Moscow and Where in St. Petersburg, as well as trusted city maps of both the capitals.
Kelley left the business in 1992 to return to his law practice, and Richardson incorporated the company as Russian Information Services, Inc. Shortly afterward, RIS became the distributor of the Moscow Times International Edition outside of Russia, and, for nearly 10 years beginning in 1993, published a semiannual mail order catalog, Access Russia, selling over 200 items from over 80 publishers and manufacturers.
But the focus of the business fundamentally changed in 1995, with the acquisition of Russian Life magazine. For the history of that publication, we jump back in time 50 years...
In October 1956, a new English language magazine, The USSR, appeared on newsstands in major US cities. Given the level of anti-communist sentiment at the time, it would hardly have seemed an auspicious name under which to launch such a magazine title.
Meanwhile, at newsstands in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and other Soviet cities, Amerika magazine made its debut.
The simultaneous appearance of these magazines was the result of an intergovernmental agreement, one among several cross-cultural agreements designed to sow trust amidst the rancor of international politics. Still, there was never any question in anyone's mind that each magazine was intended as a propaganda tool for the government issuing it.
A few years later, The USSR changed its name to Soviet Life . While never a blatant "red propaganda" tool, Soviet Life did hew to the government line. Yet it sought to present an informed view of Russian culture, history, scientific achievements and the various peoples inhabiting the biggest country on earth.
Under the terms of the inter-governmental agreement, the subscription levels of both magazines were restricted for many years to around 30,000.
In the late 1980s, with political and economic reform in the Soviet Union , there was a surge of interest in Soviet Life -- readership rose to over 50,000.
In December of 1991 the Soviet Union signed itself out of existence and, subsequently, the Russian government could not find the money to finance production of Soviet Life. The last issue of Soviet Life was published in December of 1991.
Just over one year later, in the spring of 1993, through an agreement between Novosti (the government press Agency) and Rich Frontier Publishing, Soviet Life was reborn as Russian Life. The magazine was re-initiated as a bimonthly (whereas previously Soviet Life had been a monthly magazine) and continued in that fashion, albeit with a sporadic publishing timetable, due to funding difficulties.
This is where we came in...
In July 1995, a few months after the Russian government again decided to opt out of the magazine, RIS purchased all rights to Russian Life. Initially published as a monthly, the magazine soon settled into a more realistic publishing schedule, coming out every other month, six times per year. RIS has published over 130 issues of Russian Life since 1995. Today the magazine is a 64+-page color magazine, full of fascinating stories of Russian culture, history and life in the world's largest country. It celebrated its 60th anniversary in October 2016.
In September 2016, an article that appeared in Russian Life's Mar/Apr 2015 issue won first prize for reporting in the Russian Union of Journalists' 2016 All Russian Contest for Young Journalists, "Call of the 21st Century." The article was written by Ivan Kobilyakov, and was about his visit to Norilsk and the men who save trapped miners and work to keep the mines safe.
In 2008, RIS began publication of a new quarterly journal, Chtenia: Readings from Russia. Chtenia includes mainly Russian fiction in English translation, yet there is also poetry, non-fiction and photography. Each issue is centered on a chosen theme, and is published in a convenient and durable paperback book format.
In 2009, the company turned back to its roots and began expanding its book publishing operations to include fiction. The first title, Life Stories, contained original works of fiction by 19 of Russia's leading writers, with all proceeds (over $5000 so far) going to benefit Russian hospice care. The second title, The Little Golden Calf, a fresh new translation of Ilf & Petrov's classic by Anne O. Fisher, won the 2010 AATSEEL Award for Best Translation into English from any Slavic Language.
In 2010, RIS published Peter Aleshkovsky's amazing novel of Soviet collapse and personal self-discovery, Fish: A History of One Migration, and The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar, a beautifully illustrated bilingual edition of 62 of Ivan Krylov's immortal fables.
Books published in 2011 included Marooned in Moscow, the story of an female American reporter imprisoned in Lenin's Russia, Maya Kucherskaya's award-winning Faith and Humor: Notes from Muscovy, and Jews in Service to the Tsar, a fascinating look at the lives of famous Jews in Tsarist Russia. RIS also released a two-volume collection of the Best of Russian Life.
2012 saw publication of two works of fiction: Stephan Eirik Clark's collection of Russia-focused short stories, Vladimir's Mustache (which also got great support on Kickstarter to enter it in national book contests), and a bilingual version of Alexander Kuprin's At the Circus, translated by Lise Brody. In the fall, RIS released both Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka (translated from the Dutch) and a special 30th Anniversary Edition of A Taste of Russia, completely redesigned and with a dozen new recipes.
In 2013 RIS released three novels: Alexei Bayer's superb Russian-noir crime novel, Murder at the Dacha, Peter Aleshkovsky's brilliant novel in stories Stargorod, and The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas. The was followed, in the fall, by the first-ever English translation of Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic Moscow and Muscovites, through generous funding provided by The Translation Institute. [Announced in late 2015: Moscow and Muscovites won the prize for Best Scholarly Translation of the year from AATSEEL.]
In 2014, two excellent works of non-fiction by Benson Bobrick, East of the Sun (about the colonization of Siberia) and Fearful Majesty (a biography of Ivan the Terrible) were published, along with the first ever translation of Alexander Ershov's masterpiece, The Little Humpbacked Horse.
In 2015, RIS published Bears in the Caviar, a hilarious memoir from the earliest days of US-Soviet relations, The Latchkey Murders, the second Pavel Matyushkin novel by Alexei Bayer, and Red Star Tales, an unprecedented 100-year compendium of Soviet and Russian science fiction.
2016 saw the publication of two books derived from the Spine of Russia project: The Spine of Russia coffee table book, and its companion text, Driving Down Russia's Spine. In the late fall, the third Matyushkin novel, Murder and the Muse, was released, along with the first ever translation of a classic novel by Andrei Bely, The Moscow Eccentric.
In 2017, the company did a new Kickstarter campaign to fund another epic book publishing project, The Children of 1917. This saw the three collaborators traveling over 20,000 kilometers throughout Russia, interviewing centenarians born in 1917. The movie for this project was released in late 2017, respectively. Also in 2017, RiS released a bilingual edition of Woe from Wit, as well as the 40th and final issue of its journal Chtenia.
In 2018, RiS published the book for the Children of 1917 project, Resilience, followed by a Russian language version of the book in mid-2018. In July of 2018, the company did another Kickstarter campaign, this time to fund a complete overhaul of the magazine's online presence, in order to publish the full 20+ years of back issues online, to revamp the magazine, and to create a more robust online publishing presence.
Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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