The British writer D.H. Lawrence once wrote “I hate the actor and audience business. An author should be in among the crowd, kicking their shins or cheering them on to some mischief or merriment.” Dmitry Lipskerov, 36, seems to have embraced Lawrence’s dictum. Trained as an actor, Lipskerov says he quickly realized that “it’s no good for a man to be an actor … it is the most dependent profession in the world … an actor gets his role from the director, while I write what I want, I am totally independent.”
Indeed. And kicking shins to boot. For not only is Lipskerov a widely acclaimed writer, he also owns and runs a popular restaurant in Moscow.
Lipskerov’s literary career began with “School for Emigrants,” a play he wrote at 25. It was staged by Moscow’s Lenkom Theater, whose director, Mark Zakharov, quickly dubbed Lipskerov Russia’s “second Chekhov.”
His next success came seven years later, with his novel, The Forty Years of Chanchzhoe, (1996), which was nominated for the prestigious Russian Booker prize in 1997 and which earned Lipskerov another appellation: the “Russian Kafka.” Steeped in irony and grotesque absurdities, Chanchzhoe takes satirical pokes at everything from imperial Russia to relations between men and women.
Lipskerov has since written many short stories and two more novels. Gottlieb’s Space (1997) was an erotic tale told through letters exchanged by the two protagonists. It was quickly dubbed “psychological eroticism,” because of Lipskerov’s skillful use of language – or rather non-use; the novel contains no profanity or crude sexuality. The Mind’s Last Dream (2000) is his most recent work. It is the story of Ilya Ilyasov, a Tatar fishmonger who is tired of being human and so turns into a huge catfish.
Like most writers, Lipskerov loathes any attempts to classify him or his work. “I am writing literature, which, as of today, has found its place under the sun ... I am the writer Lipskerov.” As he notes, “no writer is doing what he does for the reader. He is doing it for himself, because he feels an inner calling. Then, when he puts down the final period, he thinks, ‘Hey, maybe what I have done for myself will also be interesting to others.’ And then popularity either comes or not, depending on the author’s talent.”
Clearly Lipskerov does not strive to be a “commercial” writer, penning pulp fiction for the masses. And this means, by definition, he cannot live off his art. But that’s OK, because he earns a comfortable living from his smorgasbord restaurant – Drova (“Wood”).
Drova is located where, prior to the 1998 financial crash, there was a US-owned Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. This is ironic, because Lipskerov picked up his entrepreneurial talent from a two-year sojourn in the US where, among other things, he worked for a time as a pizza delivery guy.
America, Lipskerov said, helped him to see new opportunities in Russia and to seize them. The first opportunity was as manager then co-owner of two restaurants, Twin Peaks and then Yonka (both successfully sold).
Married to the 22-year old ex-singer of the pop group Strelki (“Arrows”), known in Russia as Myshka (“Mouse”), Lipskerov recently became a father. He now claims a contentment and happiness that seems at odds with the myth of the struggling artist.
“There is also creativity from joy,” Lipskerov offers. “Endless suffering triggers the same kind of emotions — you start asking oneself, ‘Why am I suffering all the time?’ This prompts some deep thinking processes and deep knowledge of life and all that. But when these sufferings give way to happy moments in life, you begin to realize that these moments give you no less creativity than does suffering.”
And, as if running a restaurant and being a writer were not enough, Lipskerov also inaugurated the literary contest “Debut,” for writers 25 and under. Organized together with the International Foundation “Generation,” the contest generated over 30,000 manuscript entries and the first five prizes ($2000) were awarded this year (for more information and for samples of Lipskerov’s work in Russian, see his website: www.lipskerov.ru).
Meanwhile, Lipskerov is not rushing to see his own works published abroad—what some might call the brass ring of literary legitimacy. “One should sell oneself ‘as a package deal,’ not just one book,” he said. “I want to enter the market with five books.” Only Chanchzhoe has been translated abroad, and only into Finnish and serially. “Only now am I making plans to enter the English speaking market,” he said.
Lipskerov is pragmatic in his understanding of what it takes to be a successful writer, either at home or abroad. “You can’t achieve popularity through advertising; it only comes by word of mouth. Similarly, you cannot create a restaurant’s popularity through advertising. It is all about word of mouth.”
And kicking shins.
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