Slavic Department PhD Candidate Chris Fort attended an international conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan organized by the Uzbekistan Writers’ Union in August 2018. He received the invitation because of his work translating Uzbek literature into English—his translation of Uzbek writer Abdulhamid Sulaymon o’g’li Cho’lpon’s 1934 novel Night and Day will be released in January 2019—and spoke at the conference about his research on twentieth-century Uzbek literature. Apart from Chris, the invitees to the conference included other international translators from Uzbek and representatives from Writers’ Unions of other former Soviet Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan).
The conference was the result of efforts by new Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev to reintroduce Uzbekistan to the international economic, political, and cultural community after years of isolation under his predecessor Islam Karimov. In the last two years, Mirziyoyev has graced the pages of the New York Times thanks to his economic reforms, but he has also poured considerable resources into modernizing cultural production in Uzbekistan. The conference served as a chance to showcase the attention he has lavished on writers. As part of the conference proceedings, Chris received a tour of the new Writers’ Union offices and apartments, while the conference was held at the newly constructed Alisher Navoiy Language and Literature University. Alongside conference participants, Chris listened to the reading of the official letter sent from Mirziyoyev, tuning in from time to time, purely for amusement, to the simultaneous translations of the reading broadcast in English and Russian. The conference included extravagant meals with performances from state dance troupes and opera singers, over whom participants shouted as they toasted. The second day included a visit to the ancient city of Samarqand for sight-seeing.
Chris’s presentation went well, though, naturally, there were plenty of disagreements. Chris controversially suggested that the novel he translated, Night and Day, was not an anti-Stalinist allegory as most have read it but rather both an attempt to write Socialist Realism and a modernist parody of the literature of twentieth-century Islamic reformers.