Accessibility links

Breaking News

A Street Sign Named 'Dovlatov' Cued Up In New York

Sergei Dovlatov in 1981

Russian author Sergei Dovlatov once described the Soviet emigres in his New York City neighborhood as a hodgepodge of lawyers, writers, doctors, and real estate agents alongside "Russian gangsters, madmen, and prostitutes."

"There's even a Russian blind musician," Dovlatov wrote in his 1986 novel "A Foreign Woman," which is set in the Forest Hills section of Queens.

Many of these representatives of the so-called "third wave" of Russian-speaking emigres have since left the neighborhood, but Dovlatov's name could soon be formally enshrined on a street sign near the building where he lived and worked before his death in 1990 at the age of 48.

The New York City Council last week approved a measure that would designate the intersection of 63rd Drive and 108th Street in Queens as "Sergei Dovlatov Way," and the bill will now be sent to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to be signed into law.

"I would feel incredibly proud if that happens," says Katherine Dovlatov, the late author's daughter. "Had my father been alive, I think he would probably feel that that would be an incredible honor as well."

With his wry, laconic prose and booze-soaked, tragicomic tales, Dovlatov tried in vain for years to get his writing published in the Soviet Union, ultimately resorting to circulating his work through the underground dissident publication system known as "samizdat."

He arrived in the United States in 1979 amid the "third wave" of largely Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union, settling with his wife and daughter in Forest Hills.

Dovlatov's career soared after the move: the respected U.S. magazine "The New Yorker" published his stories, and 12 of his books would go on to be published in the United States and Europe -- most of which he wrote in the family's apartment on the street that soon could bear his name.

"This street is actually where my mother still lives to this day. And that's where he lived for 12 years after coming to New York and where he wrote most of his works that were published in the United States while he was alive," Katherine Dovlatov says.

Fans Unite

The campaign to name the street after Dovlatov was launched late last year by a group of the author's fans inspired by their success in securing approval last year for a plaque dedicated to the author on the Forest Hills building where he lived.

The initiative includes an online petition that has garnered more than 18,000 signatures from supporters around the world.

In the decades following Dovlatov's death, his writing attracted a wide and enthusiastic audience in Russia and across the former Soviet Union -- a popularity reflected in the effusive praise posted by those who signed the petition to name the street after the author.

"You can begin reading his prose at any spot and find something new for yourself every time," wrote one supporter who identified himself as Sergey Bogdanov from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa.

It was a sentiment echoed by Katherine Dovlatov, whose English-language translation of her father's 1983 novel "Zapovednik" was published in March under the title "Pushkin Hills."

She says she continues to return to her father's work not only "because I feel like I'm still having a conversation with dad," but also because at various stages of her life, "there's still something that he has to say to me that relates to what I'm going through at that particular time."

"Plus, he says it in such a lighthearted way and always with so much humor that I guess...for me it's easier to process and relate to," she continues. "And I think maybe others relate to him in a similar way."

Katherine Dovlatov says she hopes that the appearance of Sergei Dovlatov Way in Queens will encourage more people to discover her father's writing, but she's not getting ahead of herself: There's still the issue of the mayor's signature.

Her mother, Elena Dovlatova, is keeping mum until the ink is dry, she says. "My mom is superstitious. She refuses to speak with journalists just yet."

  • 16x9 Image

    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.