Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Gay professor Simon Karlinsky dies


Professor Simon Karlinsky. Photo: Lili Shidlovski
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

Simon Karlinsky, an openly gay distinguished professor in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on the history of homosexuality in Russia, died July 5 due to congestive heart failure. He was 84.

Mr. Karlinsky's death was announced by his husband, Peter Carleton. The couple lived in Kensignton.

For more than 30 years Mr. Karlinsky taught at UC Berkeley. He was an author and editor of books on Gogol, Nabokov and Chekov, and an internationally known expert on the history of homosexuality in Russia.

He was born on September 22, 1924 in the city of Harbin, a Russian cultural outpost in Manchuria (now China).

With numerous books and articles to his credit, Mr. Karlinsky is best known as the author or editor of books concerning major Russian writers, mostly of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Edmund White, in the Washington Post Book World, called Professor Karlinsky's Sexual Labyrinth of Nikolai Gogol (1976) "a brilliant new biography that will long be prized for its illuminating psychological insights into Gogol's actions, its informative readings of his fiction and drama, and its own stylistic grace and vivacity." Praising Mr. Karlinsky's editing of Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940-1971 (1979), John Updike wrote in the New Yorker , "Both the correspondents, tireless devotees of linguistic fine points, would have relished their editor's scrupulous rigor."

Mr. Karlinsky was the collaborator on translation with Michael Henry Heim of Letters of Anton Chekhov (1973) to which he also contributed the introduction and commentary. He was the author of two books on the poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1966, 1985), Russian Drama from its Beginnings to the Age of Pushkin (1985), and several other books.

Additionally, Mr. Karlinsky was a contributor to such publications as the New York Times Book Review, the Nation, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, Saturday Review, Russian Review, Slavic Review , and East European Review.

To a nascent gay audience, Mr. Karlinsky was a pioneering writer of mold-breaking articles for publications spawned by the gay rights movement. For Christopher Streetü Gay Sunshine, and the Advocate he wrote on such topics as Russian gay literature and history from the 11th century onward, pre-Soviet gay life, the impact of the October Revolution on gay literature and culture, Diaghilev, Tchaichovsky, Gogol, and the persecution of the out Russian poet Gennady Trifonov. His biography of Gogol was the first to address the homosexuality of the famed Russian writer, and its impact on his work.

Mr. Karlinsky emigrated from Manchuria, arriving in the United States in October 1938. He attended Belmont High School in Los Angeles, and joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and was liaison interpreter for the U. S. Department of State in Germany, 1945-50; translator-interpreter in the Control Council for Germany, 1946-48; and liaison officer for the U.S. Command in Berlin, 1952-57. During that time, he met gay Russian soldiers who piqued his interest in gay life both before and during the Soviet regime.

He attended Los Angeles City College, ƒcole Normale de Musique (Paris), Berlin Hochschule fŸr Musik, and the University of California at Berkeley where he received a B.A. in 1960. He was a Woodrow Wilson fellow at Harvard University where he earned his M.A in 1961. He returned to UC Berkeley where he received his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1964.

Mr. Karlinsky joined the faculty of the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department at UC Berkeley in 1964 and remained there for 26 years, when he was named professor emeritus in 1991. He was a visiting associate professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard in 1966, and was the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships in 1969-70 and 1978.

Mr. Karlinsky is survived by his husband. The couple were companions since 1974, and were married in a small private ceremony in Oakland at the Alameda County Recorder's office last October. He is also survived by cousins in Alabama, Florida, New York, and San Francisco.

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo