Howling in Unison

Howling in Unison
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

“In my district, there are 154 registered members of the Writers’ Union,” boasted a Soviet Writers’ Union official, “whereas in the backward 19th century there was only one writer!” To be sure, the official concedes, that one writer was Leo Tolstoy. As this well-known anecdote suggests, to be a Soviet writer one was not required to produce readable literary works, but one did have to belong to the Union. When future Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky was charged with the crime of “parasitism”—not being employed—the judge refused to accept his self-description as “poet” because he had no union card.

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