Interview with Paul E. Richardson, author of Resilience: Life Stories of Centenarians Born in the Year of Revolution
“At a time when all we hear out of Russia is news that is either bad or worse, it could not be more important to share stories of humanity and community, of hope and persistence. Of resilience.”
– Paul E. Richardson, publisher/editor of Russian Life magazine, and author of Resilience: Life Stories of Centenarians Born in the Year of Revolution
28 years ago in March, Paul Richardson and a friend decided to found a publishing company specializing in their favorite subject, Russia. Today, among other literary ventures, Richardson’s company publishes the bimonthly magazine, Russian Life and its companion blog. This is his 22nd year putting out the magazine, an engaging compendium of cultural information, tips, contemporary stories, snapshots, and historical pieces about life in the largest country on earth.
In 2018 he and his collaborators, photojournalist Mikhail Mordasov and journalist Nadyezhda Grebennikova, have produced the beautiful and moving book, Resilience: Life Stories of Centenarians Born in the Year of Revolution.
In a nod to the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution, in 2017 they traveled the country, collecting the stories of centenarians born in 1917, elders who have lived through 100 years of Russian and Soviet history. The stories of these elders are told with tenderness and sympathy, and rigorous research and meticulous planning went in to their telling.
The book is thoughtfully illustrated with perceptive portraits of the interviewees in their homes, as well as some of their own photos saved through the years.
We recently caught up with Richardson to chat with him about his relationship with Russia, and, more specifically, with the 22 elders featured in the book.
(click on photo to see larger version)
It was not necessarily easy finding people, because while there were official statistics that they were out there, privacy laws do not allow the government agencies with the information on such people’s whereabouts to share that information easily. And it was hard to mobilize such officials to work for our cause (basically to ask the subjects if the agency could share their whereabouts). But a few did, thankfully. Mainly that we found all these people is down to the amazing doggedness of Mikhail. He simply cannot be stopped when he is on a mission.
But of course there is more than that, because I think all three of us on this project gained a deeper appreciation for the generations that have gone before us, for the elderly in our midst. We all noted how, now when we see an elderly person quietly walking down the street, or silently sitting on a bench watching the world go by, we wonder what their story is, and if someone has captured it. And we all also rue the fact that our own grandparents are all gone and we know few of their stories.
For instance, a few years ago, because of a story we were doing for the magazine, and because I am a runner, I connected up with some runners and running groups in Moscow and St. Petersburg, then did races with them. That was a great, memorable experience.
If you are into beer, try to connect with craft brewers. If you are into some kind of music or art, try to connect with people in that realm. It’s so much easier to do that ahead of time now with social media.
When, after finishing an interview with a delightful, blind woman outside Novosibirsk, the team was packing up to go talk to her family in the kitchen. And she said to herself, under her breath, but loud enough that I, still standing next to her, could hear, “Now I will not be forgotten.”
That to me summarized everything this project is about.
Born in that same era of the late 1980s and early 1990s, I think we both probably still cling to that idealistic goal many voiced in the waning years of the first Cold War, that if the US and Russia could connect more deeply on the human, individual level, it would be a really good thing…
We launched a travel newsletter back in 1994, I think it was, and MIR was a charter subscriber and advertiser. Then when we bought Russian Life magazine in 1995, they joined as an advertiser there and have not missed an issue in over 20 years. That’s dedication.
More info about Russian Life and Resilience:
(Top Photo: Paul and Nadia capturing Alexandra Pilyasova’s story; Photo: Mikhail Mordasov)
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2018