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Denali Sunrise Publications interviewed Fulbright fellow Julia Phillips, author of the debut novel Disappearing Earth, both to explore how the book examines contemporary women's lives across the rural circumpolar north, as well as how the author's time in the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia changed her own worldview. Part 1 addresses initial questions regarding her approach to setting, title, and cover, how she ended up going to Kamchatka, and begins discussion of gender-based violence, a key issue in her novel. We discuss some of her literary influences, and the hope that this book prompts broader awareness of and concern for resolution of the complex crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women. Authors mentioned include Leo Tolstoy, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, and others. Subscribe to our podcast to be notified as the remainder of the interview episodes go live. Transcripts of each episode will be made available as a blog post at our website, Sign up for our newsletter to be notified when these are available.
In this episode, we dive into specifics about the author's identity and experience as a white American woman from New York City, observing rural and Indigenous Russians of Kamchatka in their day-to-day lives. We hear her reflections about time spent in rural Kamchatka, traveling with dogsled teams, reindeer herding families, and gathering wild foods. We reflect on circumpolar questions about the ocean’s fish supply after Fukushima, and in the context of a warming Arctic. She shares her observations about the post-Soviet religious environment, including Russian Orthodox religion and shamanism, and her experiences with various modes of transportation, including by Soviet tanks with snowmobile tracks. Her cross-cultural perspective sheds insight on the way educational systems in other parts of the world contrast with, and exceed what many Americans may imagine. In closing, the episode circles back, to the pervasiveness of enforced patriarchal, gender-based expectations and violence in the day-to-day lives of women in the circumpolar north.
". . . it is an extraordinary betrayal of a national promise to care for, that the state will care for the people and its land. And the state has cared for them in the past, that the state has said 'Yes, we are here, you can depend on us. Put aside your traditional ways of gathering food or of looking out for each other. Because we are here now, and we are here to, you know, supplant your economy with our economy now, so you can depend on it and we'll be there.' And then for that state to disappear, is deadly. It's really deadly."In Part 3, National Book Award Finalist and Fulbright fellow Julia Phillips, author of the debut novel Disappearing Earth, discusses behavioral expectations for women across the circumpolar North, including some surprising differences and similarities across cultures. Discussion includes the “second shift” women endure across cultural and national identities, and examination of the common threads of colonialism which have impacted Indigenous cultures in both Russia and the United States. Phillips reflects upon the struggle of Indigenous Kamchatkans to retain language and traditional way of life. She reminds us that the infrastructure buildup during the years of the U.S.S.R. provided enormous economic security to rural Kamchatkan communities, which collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union. She talks about the privations remembered in rural Kamchatka after Soviet support evaporated, complicating current sentiments about the future of the Russian State. In closing this episode, Phillips’ recollections of stories told by Indigenous Kamchatkans of the post-Soviet era, serve as a cautionary tale to Alaskans of the dangers rural communities here face in our current era of declining oil revenues.
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