Program Recap: Gary Shteyngart & Lara Vapnyar – AJHS 2024 Biennial Scholars Conference Plenary

May 23, 2024
by Rebeca Miller

This discussion took place on Sunday, May 12th 2024 at 6:30pm Eastern.

Authors Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar were interviewed by Josh Lambert, the Sophia Moses Robison Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and English at Wellesley College for the AJHS 2024 Biennial Scholars Conference. Both authors spoke about their immigration from the former Soviet Union and first impressions of New York; Gary arrived as a child and Lara as a young adult. Each spoke about the experience of being new and feeling like they didn’t belong, and how that feeling of alienation led them to becoming writers.

Gary associates Judaism with his childhood in Queens, growing up with a very proud father active in the Jewish community, and attending Jewish day school. Lara remarked on how much her mother was afraid to show any signs of Judaism when their family was living in the Soviet Union. As an adult living in New York City she feels connected to her Jewish identity but also somewhat of an imposter for her lack of Jewish history and religious knowledge. Lara remarked that she began to feel more comfortable in the city and able to connect more with others once she began writing. Both Gary and Lara identify the most as being New Yorkers.

Gary and Lara spoke about their careers, the experience of teaching, and their mutual love of growing mint. Lara feels liberated to not be participating in social media and feels a great freedom to write based on her own inspiration and desires. Gary enjoys social media and finds it’s an excellent place to document his martini habit.