In Memoriam: Svetlana Boym

From the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University

Svetlana BoymSvetlana Boym, Curt Hugo Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, passed away August 5, 2015 after a year-long struggle with cancer. She was, to all who knew her, always was brimming with vitality, brilliance, and wit. Her warm yet fiercely independent personality together with her influential scholarship attracted students and colleagues from around the world.   

Svetlana Boym was born in Leningrad and held degrees from the Herzen Institute, Boston University (in Spanish), and Harvard (her PhD in Comparative Literature). She taught at Harvard, first in History and Literature and Comparative Literature, and she joined the Slavic Department upon her promotion to Professor in 1995. She was awarded many prizes during her career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bunting Fellowship, and an Edward Mendelsohn award for her mentoring of graduate students at Harvard.

A prolific scholar, her academic publications include: Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myths of the Modern Poet, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia, The Future of Nostalgia, and Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea. She wrote a play, The Woman Who Shot Lenin, and a novel, Ninochka. She gave scholarly talks around the world, and curated art exhibits including exhibits of her own work, particularly her photographs. Her personal website,, reflects the great diversity of her interests.

Svetlana Boym was a treasured colleague, mentor, and teacher. She spoke passionately to students about writers and thinkers such as Viktor Shklovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, and Hannah Arendt. A formidable and incisive presence in Departmental meetings, she frequently championed the causes of graduate students. Her independence and passion were almost always accompanied by great wit and laughter, which we will long miss.