More About the Author
I was born in 1976, in Riga, a city Germany and Russia took turns curating for the last 500 years: granite Lenins pointing at gothic spires. My parents encouraged personal responsibility to such an extent that, at the age of thirteen, I transferred myself to another school and informed them of that development only post factum. The Pushkin Lyceum was an experiment in bombarding kids with an almost Victorian curriculum of humanities (Latin, ethics, intro-level psychology and linguistics in 9th grade) just to see what happens. What happened was, first of all, a terrible female-to-male ratio; I represented one-third of the men in my graduating class. In 1990, I started writing for Soviet Youth, a daily newspaper that had just discovered bikini photos and UFO canards, and was enjoying a circulation of over two million as a result. My first publication was an interview with a fashionable writer, who did not expect to be interrogated by a thirteen-year-old and dropped his guard to say some extremely unflattering things about the Communist Party. The interview was immediately picked up by Radio Free Europe, thus making me a full-blown dissident. Luckily, the Soviet Union soon collapsed, no doubt under the weight of that interview; within months, my parents were getting harassed on the street (as Jews, by Russians) and on the job (as Russians, by Latvians). The family, who had previously considered emigration vaguely immoral, alighted for the U.S.
There followed two sad years in Cleveland, spent working at McDonalds and a public library, failing high-school math, and shipping awful essays about all of the above back to the old country. Finally, I took up film studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My English was not nearly sufficient for prose, so I tried dramaturgy instead. To my surprise, the resulting play about Orson Welles's radio years was actually staged by a local theater, where it ran for the record-busting two weekends. For the rest of my college years, I was a "playwright," a strange ruse on my part (I never had any interest in the form) but a profitable one (it paid for at least a year of tuition).
Within weeks of graduation, I moved to New York City and began an extended spell of job-hopping. From 1998 to 2004, I wrote music listings for the Village Voice, bluffed my way through a very brief career as a restaurant critic at Time Out New York, and anchored a news show at NTV, a Russian television network. In 2005, after a disastrous detour into small business that gave birth to "Ground Up," I happily returned to writing, both fiction and articles for New York Magazine. I also write a good deal of journalism in Russian; a Russian version of Ground Up will be published in the fall of 2009. Finally, I am working on a picture book about unsung icons of Soviet design for Rizzoli. It should be out in early 2011.