AZBUKA STRIKES BACK: Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, “The Azbuka of Race: Blackness and Racial Imaginaries in Early Soviet Children's Books”, 10 June 2022, 6:30 PM
Soviet children’s books were designed to educate and shape generations of Soviet citizens who would be ideologically and socially dedicated to the Soviet socialist project. Through children’s books, we can see the beginnings of a short-lived narrative form of “Comintern aesthetics,” which sought to create feelings of solidarity between Soviet and Black people through a lexicon of socialist values. However, the imaginings of race in Soviet children’s books were a part of the ecumene of Western white supremacist imagery. St. Julian-Varnon’s study of Blackness in Soviet children’s literature reveals the paradoxical nature of racial understanding that became a staple of Soviet racial politics. The Black imaginary in Soviet children’s books reveals why the ideal of an anti-racist Soviet Union was a utopian dream world that could not be.
Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon is a PhD Student in History and a Presidential PhD Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation research studies the experiences of Africans and African Americans in the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic to analyze the forms and functions of race in ‘raceless’ socialist societies.