How can a Russian and Eastern European Culture make an impression on our youth unless we introduce that culture into the local school curriculum?
Knowing that making material relevant to the students is the key to their enjoying the literature, Moscow Nights sought to introduce local students to the works of Alexander Pushkin, the most famous of Russian writers who was the great grandson of an African slave. The connection was stronger than a mere bloodline — the poet frequently expressed an interest in what he called “my Africa.”
In the fall semester of 2004, by special agreement with Dr. Clyde Robertson, Director of the Department of African and Multicultural Studies in the New Orleans City Schools, representatives of Moscow Nights began to meet regularly with the teachers of McMain Senior High School. Members of Moscow Nights presented lectures on various aspects of Pushkin’s work, suggesting avenues of instruction that might make Pushkin more accessible to McMain students. Dr. Samuel C. Ramer of Tulane University spoke on the many parallels that might be drawn between the St. Petersburg of Pushkin’s time and the New Orleans of the same era. Ms. Baty Landis spoke on the power of the musical tradition of both cities. Natasha Ramer discussed the potential involved in staging various small plays drawn from Pushkin’s work.
In the spring of 2005, Ms. Ramer worked with students and a talented local actor, Roscoe Reddix, in McMain Secondary School to stage a special composition adaptation for students based upon Pushkin’s life. That year, we hoped to follow up on this program and to see whether Pushkin might not become a real source of inspiration for the students. However, our efforts in this regard were cut short by Hurricane Katrina. Both Ramer and Reddix still plan to continue to work together in order to resurrect this project.
Another plan cut short by Katrina can trace its roots to Ms. Ramer’s trip to Moscow in 2004. In December of that year, Ms. Ramer met Ms. Natalia Yazykova, Director of Moscow Pushkin School # 353 and Drama teacher, Larisa Striganova. These women introduced Ms. Ramer to the entire curriculum for Russian students and how it is structured around the life and work of Alexander Pushkin. In this school, for example, there is an annual Pushkinesque Ball where students master the manners and way of life of the Russian aristocracy of the time, learning these specific manners from Pushkin’s works. Moscow Nights’ goal is to bring American students who already learned about Pushkin to Moscow as special guests of Moscow Pushkin School.