In March of 1990, a bizarre confluence of events – involving two gung-ho Norwegians, one Vermonter tangling with Young Communists, and a Californian with ink in his blood – led to the founding of a small publishing company in Vermont. The company's initial goal was to produce books, maps and information for people traveling to Russia. It has since morphed into the publisher of the only English language periodical on the world's largest country, and one of the most prolific publishers of Russian literature in English translation.
The company's original partners, Paul E. Richardson and David F. Kelley, authored the company's first book, Moscow Business Survival Guide. This later became the renowned Russia Business Survival Guide (subsequently published in seven annual editions, including one translated into Korean) and spun off the cult hits Where in Moscow and Where in St. Petersburg, as well as trusted city maps of both the capitals.
Kelley left the business in 1992 to return to his law practice, and Richardson incorporated the company as Russian Information Services, Inc. Shortly afterward, RIS became the distributor of the Moscow Times International Edition outside of Russia, and, for nearly 10 years beginning in 1993, published a semiannual mail order catalog, Access Russia, selling over 200 items from over 80 publishers and manufacturers.
But the focus of the business fundamentally changed in 1995, with the acquisition of Russian Life magazine. For the history of that publication, we jump back in time 50 years...
In October 1956, a new English language magazine, The USSR, appeared on newsstands in major US cities. Given the level of anti-communist sentiment at the time, it would hardly have seemed an auspicious name under which to launch such a magazine title.
Meanwhile, at newsstands in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and other Soviet cities, Amerika magazine made its debut.
The simultaneous appearance of these magazines was the result of an intergovernmental agreement, one among several cross-cultural agreements designed to sow trust amidst the rancor of international politics. Still, there was never any question in anyone's mind that each magazine was intended as a propaganda tool for the government issuing it.
A few years later, The USSR changed its name to Soviet Life . While never a blatant "red propaganda" tool, Soviet Life did hew to the government line. Yet it sought to present an informed view of Russian culture, history, scientific achievements and the various peoples inhabiting the biggest country on earth.
Under the terms of the inter-governmental agreement, the subscription levels of both magazines were restricted for many years to around 30,000.
In the late 1980s, with political and economic reform in the Soviet Union , there was a surge of interest in Soviet Life -- readership rose to over 50,000.
In December of 1991 the Soviet Union signed itself out of existence and, subsequently, the Russian government could not find the money to finance production of Soviet Life. The last issue of Soviet Life was published in December of 1991.
Just over one year later, in the spring of 1993, through an agreement between Novosti (the government press Agency) and Rich Frontier Publishing, Soviet Life was reborn as Russian Life. The magazine was re-initiated as a bimonthly (whereas previously Soviet Life had been a monthly magazine) and continued in that fashion, albeit with a sporadic publishing timetable, due to funding difficulties.
This is where we came in...
In July 1995, a few months after the Russian government again decided to opt out of the magazine, RIS purchased all rights to Russian Life. Initially published as a monthly, the magazine soon settled into a more realistic publishing schedule, coming out every other month, six times per year. RIS has published over 130 issues of Russian Life since 1995. Today the magazine is a 64+-page color magazine, full of fascinating stories of Russian culture, history and life in the world's largest country. It will celebrate its 60th anniversary in October 2016.
In 2008, RIS began publication of a new quarterly journal, Chtenia: Readings from Russia. Designed very much as a supplement to Russian Life, Chtenia includes mainly Russian fiction in English translation, yet there is also poetry, non-fiction and photography. Each issue is centered on a chosen theme, and is published in a convenient and durable paperback book format.
In 2009, the company turned back to its roots and began expanded its book publishing operations to include fiction. The first title, Life Stories, contained original works of fiction by 19 of Russia's leading writers, with all proceeds going to benefit Russian hospice care. The second title, The Little Golden Calf, a fresh new translation of Ilf & Petrov's classic by Annie O. Fisher, wone the 2010 AATSEEL Award for Best Translation into English from any Slavic Language.
In 2010, RIS published Peter Aleshkovsky's amazing novel of Soviet collapse and personal self-discovery, Fish: A History of One Migration, and The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar, a beautifully illustrated bilingual edition of 62 of Ivan Krylov's immortal fables.
Books published in 2011 included Marooned in Moscow, the story of an female American reporter imprisoned in Lenin's Russia, Maya Kucherskaya's award-winning Faith and Humor: Notes from Muscovy, and Jews in Service to the Tsar, a fascinating look at the lives of famous Jews in Tsarist Russia. RIS also released a two-volume collection of the Best of Russian Life.
2012 saw publication of two works of fiction: Stephan Eirik Clark's collection of Russia-focused short stories, Vladimir's Mustache (which also got great support on Kickstarter to enter it in national book contests), and a bilingual version of Alexander Kuprin's At the Circus, translated by Lise Brody. In the fall, RIS released both Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka (translated from the Dutch) and a special 30th Anniversary Edition of A Taste of Russia, completely redesigned and with a dozen new recipes.
In 2013 RIS will release three exciting novels: Alexei Bayer's superb Russian-noir crime novel, Murder at the Dacha, Peter Aleshkovsky's brilliant novel in stories Stargorod, and the first volume in its path-breaking trilogy of historical fiction, The Silk Road Trilogy (funded by Kickstarter). In the fall, RIS released the first-ever English translation of Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic Moscow and Muscovites, through generous funding provided by The Translation Institute.