Monday, January 9, 2012

Nadia Lavrova (1897-1989)

Weird Tales and the Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution began ninety-five years ago next month--in February 1917 by the old-style Julian calendar--and resulted in the downfall of czarist Russia and eventually the establishment of the Soviet Union. Now, almost a century later, after countless millions of people were murdered, starved, tortured, and imprisoned by the party, government, and system that claimed to be their champion, Russia is no longer communist. Lenin's mummy, one of the weirdest remnants of those long-ago times, still lies in a tomb in Red Square and can still be viewed nearly ninety years after his death. That's subject enough for a weird tale.

Nineteen seventeen and the years following were a tumultuous time in Russia. The lucky ones got out when they could, either by fleeing across international borders or by permission of whatever authority might have existed at the time. Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919), subject of a previous posting, was one of those. Unfortunately, Andreyev survived only a couple of years in exile. Others thrived, and at least four contributed stories to Weird Tales from homes in the Unites States or Great Britain. I'm planning to write about those four--Nadia Lavrova, Maria Moravsky, Edith M. Almedingen, and V.K. Kaledin--over the next couple of weeks. I'll begin with the writer about whom I know the most.  

Nadia Lavrova
Née Nadia L. Shapiro
Teacher, Interpreter, Journalist, Editor, and Author
Born October 20, 1897, Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia
Died June 20, 1989, Santa Rosa, California

During her long life, Nadia Lavrova Shapiro devoted herself to language, literature, journalism, and education. Daughter of an attorney, she was born on October 20, 1897, in Irkutsk, a city in the interior of Russia, and grew up in Blagoveschensk. Even when she lived in what she called "America's lovely lotus-land, California," Nadia remembered her Siberian home with fondness:
When I recall the Siberia of my childhood, I see a land of plenty, a land of ease and leisure and, most important of all, a land that to thousands of men and women spelled "second chance" in the bitter game of living.
Nadia began studying English as a girl of nine. After receiving her high school diploma in Irkutsk and an elementary teacher certificate in Blagoveschensk, she studied at the Moscow Women's College in 1916-1917. She returned to Siberia as revolution set in, teaching English at Blagoveschensk Polytechnical School in 1917-1918. With her family, Nadia fled from Bolshevism to Harbin, Manchuria, China, in 1918, where she became an interpreter and a writer of newspaper features, later foreign editor of the newspaper Zaria.

Nadia L. Shapiro immigrated to the United States in August 1922 and--after the validation of her Russian diplomas was completed--received a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley in May 1923. Also within her first year here, she sold a story--"The Talisman"--to Weird Tales magazine, then only a few months old. A bachelor's degree and a sale to Weird Tales in her first year in America--I call that gumption.

Between 1923 and 1932, Nadia Shapiro wrote features and edited the book and art page of the San Francisco Examiner. Using the byline "Nadia Lavrova," the young Russian freelanced articles and stories from 1932 to 1942, her work appearing in The Christian Science Monitor and in publications on the West Coast. Midway through that period, Nadia went to work for the Federal government, first for the Works Projects Administration (1937-1942), then (ironically) for the U.S. Office of Censorship (1942-1945), finally for the U.S. Office of War Information (1945). As the war was coming to its end, Nadia was in just the right place to land a position as an interpreter and translator with the United Nations Conference on International Organization, which assembled in San Francisco on April 25, 1945. During the opening years of the Cold War (1946-1953), Nadia worked for the CIA as a foreign broadcast monitor.

By 1953 and after a thirty-year career, Nadia Shapiro was of an age to retire, but I suspect she continued to write, as writing to a person born to write is not an occupation but a way of life. Nadia Lavrova Shapiro died on June 20, 1989, in Santa Rosa, California, at age ninety-one. Sadly, she did not live long enough to see the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Nadia Lavrova’s Story in Weird Tales
"The Talisman" (Sept. 1923)

Further Reading
Nadia Lavrova Shapiro's papers are in the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University. For her very charming article, "My Old Home Town Was Blagoveschensk," see the Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1933 (p. G5).  

Photograph from 1933.

Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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