Congratulations to the Winners of the 2020-21 North American Dostoevsky Society Student Essay Contests!

The entries are in, the committees have deliberated, and we’re pleased to announce the winners of the 2020-21 North American Dostoevsky Society student essay contests! The statements from the committees appear below.

Graduate Student Essay Contest

We are delighted to award first prize in the 2020-2021 NADS graduate essay contest to “The first Greek translation of Crime and Punishment and its translator, Alexandros Papadiamantes,” by Christina Karakepeli (University of Exeter). In this essay, Karakepeli compellingly shows how Papadiamantes alternates between the archaic and vernacular dialects of modern Greek to render the polyphony of Dostoevsky’s novel. This creative re-writing brought him closer to Dostoevsky’s original than the intermediary French translation through which he worked – a process that (as Karakepeli argues) continued in Papadiamantes’s own creative “refraction” of Crime and Punishment in his influential 1903 novella The Murderess. Rooted in meticulous and thoroughly contextualized close reading, Karakepeli’s essay offers a valuable case study in how “the nascent Modern Greek literary field was changed by its contact with Russian literature.”

We are also delighted to award an Honorable Mention to “ ‘Don’t Get Angry, Just Pray’: The Ghost of Gogol in Dostoevsky’s Diary,” by Gabriel Nussbaum (Princeton University). Nussbaum revealingly dissects a previously overlooked parody of Gogol in the January 1876 Diary of a Writer. In an invented (putatively posthumous) quotation from Gogol in the article “Spiritualism. A Bit About Devils. . .,” Dostoevsky demonstrates his thorough mastery of Gogol’s artistic vocabulary and devices. As Nussbaum suggests, Dostoevsky goes on to borrow Gogol’s own rhetorical strategies and grotesque style in mounting his religious critique of spiritualism. Nussbaum’s resourceful analysis reveals how “Gogol’s influence on Dostoevsky continued to develop and take new forms up until the zenith” of Dostoevsky’s career.

Warmest congratulations to Christina and Gabriel on their exciting work!

Undergraduate Essay Contest

The winner of the NADS Undergraduate Essay Contest this year is Abigail Munzar, a student at Pepperdine University with the essay titled “The Secret of Smerdyakov.” Abigail’s essay was written for Prof. Paul Contino’s colloquium “Great Books IV.”   Congratulations, Abigail!

In her essay, Abigail analyzes the character of Pavel Smerdyakov from The Brothers Karamazov — his life story, his interactions with Ivan Karamazov, and the complex reasons for his murdering Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov — to make a provocative argument about guilt playing a significant role among the motives for Smerdyakov’s suicide.  Abigail compares Smerdyakov’s suicide to that of Judas Iscariot, suggesting that Smerdyakov had the potential for conversion and yet was unable to overcome hatred which was “all Smerdyakov has ever known,” leading up to his identity crisis.  The Contest Committee was impressed by the originality of Abigail’s ideas and her readiness to pose difficult questions and to acknowledge possible contradictions in answering them. The Committee would also like to point out that Abigail’s essay allows us to reconsider the character of Smerdyakov as kin to such Dostoevsky figures as Svidrigailov from Crime and Punishment and Stavrogin from Demons, whose suicides also result from the clash of guilt conscience with the inability to convert.    

Two essays received Honorable Mentions – 1. “Windows to Reality: Reading with a Voice of Clarification in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot” by Kirsten Wesselow from the University of British Columbia (written for the “Russian Literature in Translation [The 19th-Century Novel]” class taught by Prof. Katherine Bowers) and 2. The untitled essay by Aurora Chang from University College London (written for the course titled “The Person, Love and Utopia in Russian Thought” taught by Prof. Sarah Young).

Kirsten’s essay analyzes the parenthetical statements in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, that, Kirsten argues, represent a narrative “voice of clarification” (in addition to those of the narrator and of the implied author, described by Robin Feuer Miller). The Committee finds Kirsten’s idea to look specifically at the text in parenthesis extremely interesting and deserving further elaboration.

Aurora’s essay looks at Dostoevsky’s short story “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,” taking it beyond the confines of James Scanlan’s definition as an “exercise in political philosophy.” The Committee was impressed by the scope of Aurora’s engagement with scholarly sources that helped Aurora create a truly “polyphonic” analysis of “The Dream.”    

Finally, the Committee thanks everyone who nominated their or their students’ essays to participate in the Contest. We would like to emphasize that absolutely all nominations were of truly high quality. The unusually high volume of submissions this year defined a highly competitive nature of the Contest and made the Committee’s task of choosing just one winner (and just two honorary mentions) a truly difficult one. The Committee members want to express their delight at the fact that undergraduate students across the globe engage with Dostoevsky’s writings in such a creative and meaningful way!  

Thank you to committee leads Chloë Kitzinger (Rutgers) and Vladimir Ivantsov (Oberlin) as well as to committee members Lindsay Ceballos (Lafayette), Octavian Gabor (Methodist College), and Robin Feuer Miller (Brandeis) for their work in reading and discussing all of the submissions!

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