Venclova, Tomas 1937-

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Venclova, Tomas 1937-


Name is pronounced "vent-slova"; born September 11, 1937, in Klaipeda, Lithuania; immigrated to the United States, 1977, naturalized citizen, 1985; son of Antanas (a writer) and Eliza Venclova; married Tanya Milovidova (an actress), April 18, 1990; children: Andrius, Maria. Ethnicity: "Lithuanian." Education: University of Vilnius, diploma, 1960; graduate study at Tartu University, 1966-71; Yale University, Ph.D., 1985.


Home—New Haven, CT. Office—Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Vilnius, Vilnius, Lithuania, lecturer in literature, linguistics and semiotics, 1966-73; Academy of Sciences of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, Vilnius, junior fellow of Institute of History, 1974-76; University of California, Berkeley, Regents Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, 1977; University of California, Los Angeles, lecturer in Slavic languages and literatures, 1977-80; Ohio University, Athens, Morton Professor of Philosophy, 1978; Yale University, New Haven, CT, lecturer and acting instructor, 1980-85, assistant professor, 1985-90, associate professor, 1990-93, professor of Slavic languages and literatures, 1993—. Member of editorial board, Forum Balticum (Stockholm, Sweden), Sintaksis (Paris, France), Zeszyty Literackie (Paris), Metmenys (Chicago, IL), Akiraciai (Chicago), and Russian and East European publications of Yale University.


International PEN, Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (president, 1989-91), PEN in Exile (member of executive board, 1982—).


Fellow, Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, 1981, and New York Institute for the Humanities, 1981-84; international literary prize Vilenica, 1990; honorary doctorate, University of Lublin, 1991; Waclaw Lednicki Humanities Award, Polish Institute, 1996, and Vucinich Prize, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, 1997, both for Aleksander Wat; Lithuanian Order of the Cross of Vytis, c. 1999; Lithuanian National Prize, 2000; honorary doctorates, Jagellonian University, 2000, and University of Torun, 2005; New Culture of New Europe Award, 2005.



Pasnekesys ziema (poetry), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1991, partial translation by Diane Senechal published as Winter Dialogue, foreword by Joseph Brodsky, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1997.

Vilties formos: Eseistika ir publicistika (essays), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1991, partial translation published as Forms of Hope (essays), Sheep Meadow Press (Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY), 1999.

Aleksander Wat: Life and Art of an Iconoclast, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1996.

Contributor to periodicals, including International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics, Russian Literature, Russian Review, World Literature Today, Journal of Baltic Studies, Comparative Civilizations Review, and UCLA Slavic Studies. English translations of Venclova's poetry have appeared in periodicals, including New York Review of Books.


Kalbos ženklas (title means "A Sign of the Language"), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1972.

98 eilėraščiai (title means "98 Poems"), Algimanto Mackaus Knygu Leidimo Fondas (Chicago, IL), 1977.

Szesc wierszy (title means "Six Poems"), FIS (Lublin, Poland), 1991.

Cistost soli (title means "Purity of Salt"), Drustvo Slovenskih Pisateljev (Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1991.

Mondjatok meg Fortinbrasnak (title means "Tell Fortinbras"), Europa (Budapest, Hungary), 1992.

Rinktinė Baltos Lankos (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1999.

Vor der Tür das Ende der Welt (title means "Beyond the Door the World Ends"), Rospo Verlag (Hamburg, Germany), 2000.

Granenyi vozdukh (title means "Engraved Air"), Dom Iurgisa Baltrushaitisa (Moscow, Russia), 2002.

Sankirta (title means "The Junction"), Lietuvos rasytoju sajungos leidykla, 2005.


Tekstai apie tekstus (articles), Algimanto Mackaus Knygu Leidimo Fondas (Chicago, IL), 1985.

Neustoichivoe ravnovesie: vosem' russkikh poėticheskikh tekstov (title means "Unstable Equilibrium: Eight Russian Poetic Texts"), Center for International and Area Studies, Yale University (New Haven, CT), 1986.

Sobesedniki na piru (articles; title means "Participants in the Feast"), Baltos Lankos (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1997.

Vilnius, R. Paknio leidykla (Vilnius, Lithuania), 2001.

(Coauthor) Anna Akhmatova—poslednie gody, Nevskii dialekt (Saint Petersburg, Russia), 2001.

Vilniaus vardai (title means "Personalities of Vilnius"), R. Paknio leidykla (Vilnius, Lithuania), 2006.


Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Mergaite ir balandziai (title means "A Girl and Pigeons"), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1961.

Tadeusz Breza, Bronziniai vartai (title means "Bronze Gate"), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1963.

Curzio Malaparte, Kaputt, Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1967.

Iurii Olesha, Pavydas (title means "Envy"), Vaga (Vilnius, Lithuania), 1971.

Balsai (title means "Voices"), Ateitis (Southfield, MI), 1979.

Kitaip (title means "Otherwise"), Lietuvos rasytoju sajungos leidykla, 2006.

Also translator of works by such writers as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, and Jorge Luis Borges.


Tomas Venclova is a Lithuanian-born writer who has published poetry and nonfiction. He was educated at the University of Vilnius, from which he received a diploma in philology in 1960. In the ensuing few years, he wrote poetry and provided Lithuanian translations of works by various writers. "Since I never made a secret of my opinions, my own poetry (even if largely non-political) rarely passed the Soviet censorship, and I made my living mainly as a translator," Venclova once told CA. "In addition to such classics as Shakespeare and García Lorca, considered harmless by the Soviets, I managed to translate and publish in Lithuanian several significant semi-forbidden literary works, including poems by Boris Pasternak and The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot."

Venclova taught at the University of Vilnius in the late 1960s and early 1970s; he then joined the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. By this time, his involvement in the Lithuanian and Soviet dissident movement had drawn the attention of Soviet authorities. After Venclova began a teaching stint at the University of California, Berkeley, he was abruptly stripped of his Soviet citizenship. "Thus I became a political emigré," he told CA.

But with the help of other emigrés, including Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky, Venclova managed to maintain his literary career. While Milosz and Brodsky translated Venclova's poetry into Polish and Russian, respectively, he supplied contributions to American publications. In addition, he enrolled at Yale University, where he earned a doctorate in 1985. That same year, he became an American citizen.

Since coming to the United States, Venclova has established himself as an accomplished poet. Joseph Brodsky, writing in PMLA, observed: "One need only leaf through Tomas Venclova's verse to observe ele- ments that are increasingly scarce in similar publications—first of all, meter and rhyme, the components that shape poetic statement. The poet who wishes to make his statements a reality for his audience must formulate them as a linguistic inevitability. Rhyme and meter are his weapons in attaining this goal. And Venclova is the sort of poet who attempts to influence his audience."

Among Venclova's many volumes of poetry is Pasnekesys ziema, which appeared in English translation as Winter Dialogue. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted Venclova's status in Eastern Europe "as a poet of fierce moral tenacity," and Steven R. Ellis wrote in Library Journal of Venclova's "voice of great courage and strength." Another reviewer, Vyt Bakaitis, alleged in World Literature Today that "the poems stay unbreachably private" but conceded that they possess "an uncannily resourceful, fulsome sonority that clearly registers an effect as rich as it is strange."

Venclova is also the author of Aleksander Wat: Life and Art of an Iconoclast. "My interest in Aleksander Wat was enhanced by the fact that my own experience paralleled some aspects of his," Venclova told CA. "A Polish emigré, a major Central European poet and a brilliant critic of totalitarianism, Wat is only slightly known to Western readers—a situation that my book on him attempts to remedy." A Publishers Weekly reviewer affirmed that Aleksander Wat succeeds in "putting Wat's work clearly in context with other Polish, Russian and Western European writers." Clare Cavanagh, meanwhile, wrote in New Republic that Venclova's book shows Wat to be "not only one of the century's greatest poets," but "also among the most impassioned and powerful critics of its totalitarian legacy."

Venclova told CA: "I consider myself primarily a poet in my native Lithuanian language. I was born to a literary family. Therefore, from my early childhood, I became fairly well acquainted with native and world classics, and could hardly imagine for myself an occupation unrelated to literature.

"I feel that I belong to a group of anti-totalitarian and non-nationalist Central and East European writers which crystallized after 1956 and especially after the Prague Spring. My cosmopolitan outlook and relative lack of interest in Lithuanian ethnic traditions set me apart in Lithuanian letters. I believe I was influenced by Russian poetry, mainly by Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Joseph Brodsky, as well as by W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin, and other authors. In my world outlook, partly expressed in my essays and literary criticism, I owe much to George Orwell, Albert Camus, and Andrei Sakharov."



Library Journal, May 1, 1996, review of Aleksander Wat: Life and Art of an Iconoclast, p. 95; May 15, 1997, Steven R. Ellis, review of Winter Dialogue, p. 80.

New Republic, June 9, 1997, Clare Cavanagh, review of Aleksander Wat, pp. 44-47.

New York Review of Books, November 28, 1996, review of Aleksander Wat, pp. 4-6; September, 1998, Michael Scammell, review of Winter Dialogue, pp. 36-39.

New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1996, review of Aleksander Wat, p. 30.

PMLA, March, 1992, Joseph Brodsky, "Poetry as a Form of Resistance to Reality," p. 220.

Publishers Weekly, March 4, 1996, review of Aleksander Wat, p. 44; June 20, 1997, review of Winter Dialogue, p. 73.

Times Literary Supplement, August 4, 2000, Donald Rayfield, review of Forms of Hope.

World Literature Today, fall, 1999, Vyt Bakaitis, review of Winter Dialogue.


Yale University Web site: Tomas Venclova Home Page, (August 10, 2007).