Quick Study: Marina Stepnova is a fiction writer, screenwriter, and literary translator.
The Stepnova File: Marina Stepnova studied translation at the Literary Institute. She has been publishing fiction—short stories—in prestigious “thick” literary journals since 2003. Her debut novel, The Surgeon, was published in 2005 then re-released in 2012 after her second novel, The Women of Lazarus, won wide critical and popular acclaim. Her third novel, The Italian Lessons (Безбожный переулок), came out in 2014, and a short story collection, Somewhere Near Grosseto, in 2016. Stepnova has also translated the Romanian playwright Mihail Sebastian’s play “The Star without a Name,” which has been produced in Russia and Ukraine, and taught screenwriting.
Psssst………: Stepnova has the distinction of being the first female editor-in-chief of a (now-defunct) men’s magazine, XXL… She already had experience in men’s magazines after working at The Bodyguard, a trade journal for the security industry, which she joined in the early 2000s after doing graduate work at the Institute of World Literature on the 18th-century Russian Neoclassicist Aleksandr Sumarokov. … Stepnova worked on The Women of Lazarus for five years… and believes in happy endings…
Stepnova’s Places: Born in Efremov, a town in the Tula region… raised in Moscow, where she studied at the Gorky Literary Institute and Institute of World Literature… lives in Moscow, though she has said it’s becoming more difficult to live there… Tuscany is Stepnova’s favorite place on earth…
The Word on Stepnova: In a review for Literary Newspaper, Lev Pirogov wrote that in Stepnova’s The Women of Lazarus, “Many of Stepnova’s characters are freaks and jerks (the lascivious academic and his monster widow, for example) but somehow they’re still ‘your’ people. The author pities and loves them anyway. (One can love without forgiving.) I’m sorry, but this is beyond ‘mastery of the language,’ it’s a genuine, higher mastery.”
Stepnova on Stepnova: Stepnova said in an interview that she grew up in a family of doctors and wanted to be a doctor but changed her mind because of a teacher, “He thought I could achieve more in literature than in medicine.” When asked if he was right, Stepnova said, “I don’t know, it’s not for me to judge. But sometimes I think it’s more honest to be a good doctor than a good writer. Medicine is something that’s pleasing to God but literature is not.”
On Writing: When asked if her journalistic work interferes with her fiction writing, Stepnova said, “They occupy completely different parts of the brain. I sometimes even think it’s different hemispheres. But prose doesn’t interfere with my loving my work. Lots of people consider glossy journalism a low genre, but that’s completely unjust. Several generations of boys who, for various reasons, never got in the habit of reading books found out about Churchill or, for example, Genghis Khan thanks to XXL magazine. So my colleagues and I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
In another interview, with Off the Record, Stepnova said this about her fiction writing, “I don’t like to write, it’s difficult, excruciating work. I do it because I consider myself responsible for the abilities that I was granted, I suppose, at birth. God doesn’t give gifts just like that. If the talent for carving spoons was invested in you, carve spoons. Don’t slack off. Because someone needs those spoons.”
On Writers Writing about Themselves: “You’ve got to know whether you are ready to live the kind of life that’s worth writing about. If you’re just another bookworm and your biggest adventure was riding the trolleybus without a ticket, then you shouldn’t write about yourself. Plus, of course, Limonov’s lyrical character and Limonov himself are different people. In the end, everything that we write is from ourselves. Transferring your thoughts and feelings into another imaginary being, creating a made-up world that people start to believe in – now that’s a real professional challenge. That’s a mission.”
On So-Called “Women’s Fiction:” “There’s a lot of talk about women’s fiction, most of it dismissive, and most of it from critics and male readers. But what can I say? That’s just as stupid as talking about women’s architecture, women’s physics, or women’s economics. Basically there are only good and bad texts, and it makes no difference at all who writes them. Even a raccoon. So I don’t make any attempt to purposely hold back when I write, and I don’t think about critics. To be honest, I don’t even think about readers, as offensive as that may sound. I just tell stories, as best I can.”
Stepnova Recommends: In an interview, Stepnova predicted that, among contemporary Russian writing, Linor Goralik’s is likely to survive. In another interview, when asked what books she rereads most often, Stepnova said Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Nabokov’s The Gift.