Anstei, Olga Nikolaevna (1912–1985)

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Anstei, Olga Nikolaevna (1912–1985)

Author and translator who was considered Russia's most visible émigré poet. Name variations: Ol'ga. Born Olga Shteinberg on March 1, 1912, in Kiev, Russia; died on May 30, 1985, in New York City; married Anglaia Shishova (divorced); married Ivan Elagin, in 1937 (divorced); married Boris Filippov (divorced).

Selected works:

Door in the Wall (1949); (translator) Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1960); In the Way (1976).

Born and raised in Kiev, Russia, Olga Nikolaevna Anstei was trained extensively in foreign languages, and her fluency would carry her across Europe and to a new home in America. After secondary school in her hometown, Anstei was admitted to the Institute of Foreign Languages, where she specialized in English and French. When she graduated at age 19, she took positions as a secretary and translator. She was briefly married and divorced before she met author Ivan Elagin, whom she married in 1937. When Russia, in the throes of World War II, became politically uncomfortable for Anstei and Elagin, they were forced to emigrate in 1943, spending time in Prague and Berlin.

Anstei had been writing since childhood, and, though she did not publish in Russia, her work had been known and admired there by poet Maksim Ryl'skii. In Berlin, she submitted poetry written at age 18, and it was published. When she and Elagin moved to Munich in 1946, they lived in a barracks for displaced persons (DP) and produced a collection of DP poetry. Anstei's poetry also began to appear regularly in Russian émigré journals, which led to the publication of her first collection Door in the Wall in 1949.

The following year, Anstei and Elagin made their way to New York City, where Anstei found a position in the United Nations as a secretary and translator. In New York, the Russian-American publication New Review was eager for her writings, but the poet's output was intermittent and interspersed with translations of such authors as Housman, Tennyson, Rilke, and Benét. During this time, Anstei's marriage to Elagin faltered and was followed by a brief and unsuccessful union with Boris Filippov, another émigré writer and scholar.

When Anstei visited the Ukraine in 1973, her reputation in Russia as one of the most visible émigré poets of her time was well established. But America had become her home, and she returned to live in New York City, where she died at age 73.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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