Slavic Studies PhD alum Colleen Lucey is currently an Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Arizona where she teaches courses on Russian language, literature, culture, and theatre. Supervised by Professor (Emeritus) Alexander Dolinin, her dissertation at UW was titled Figures of Desires and Disgrace: Woman as Commodity in 19th-Century Russian Literature and Visual Culture. Her book, published by Cornell University Press this year, is titled Love for Sale: Representing Prostitution in Imperial Russia.
Congratulations on the publication of your first book! Could you tell us what it’s about?
Thanks very much! It’s great to see Love for Sale on sale! The book examines depictions of sexual commerce in nineteenth-century Russian literature and art. I argue that the sex worker captivated the public’s imagination because she embodied the promises of sexual emancipation while evoking fears of contagion and moral decline. Each of the book’s chapters focuses on a key figure in debates on prostitution: the street walker, brothel worker, demimondaine, kept woman, impoverished bride, and madam all traded in sex and, as such, appear in fiction and visual culture as mediums to discuss women’s shifting social roles at the end of tsarist rule. At points in the book, I invite readers to draw connections between nineteenth-century discussions on women’s sexuality and contemporary debates on sex workers’ rights in Russia.
Do you have any advice for anyone seeking to turn their dissertation into a book?
Turning your dissertation into a book is a rewarding process, but it can be difficult. I was very lucky to receive great advice from my dissertation advisor, Prof. Alexander Dolinin, and from mentors in and beyond Slavic Studies. I agree with everything Molly Thomasy Blasing recommends in her post and second the points she makes. In addition to circulating drafts of chapters, I’d recommend seeing if colleagues might share successful book proposals. A book proposal is a specific genre—one that isn’t necessarily taught during grad school, so you have to see models in order to know how to craft a successful one.
It goes without saying that you must believe in your book. If you don’t believe in it, a publisher isn’t going to take a chance on it. With all the work that goes into a dissertation, sometimes you can lose sight of the greatness of the endeavor itself and the magnitude of your successes.
I would also encourage someone turning a dissertation into a book to think about goals, audience, story, impact, and timeline. What are the goals you have for your book? You might want your book to be the “fresh new take” on an old topic, or to be part of a continuing, ongoing conversation. Who is your audience? Your book might be for a select group of scholars or meant to be accessible to the wider public. What’s your story? A dissertation answers a lot of questions, but it typically doesn’t create a narrative. Some of the best academic books are those that take a topic and offer a compelling narrative about the meaning of the subject matter. What’s your book’s impact? Your book might change the way people think about literature, art, theory, etc. It might also change how a particular subject is taught. What’s your timeline? Do you need to get the book done in a year, in three years, in five? It helped me to do a bit of backward design on my book before getting down to business. This way, I knew how to make a plan that was manageable given my teaching and service load. Oh, and, you know have a bit of a personal life.
Speaking of personal life, we recently learned you had a baby! How have you balanced teaching and research with the demands of being a mom? Any recommendations for new parents?
Yes, a book and a baby in 2021! I don’t know if I would recommend doing both simultaneously, but it happened that way for me. I feel like becoming a mom made me prioritize in ways that I didn’t have to previously. Days are planned with intention; I have to schedule time to read and write, otherwise it doesn’t get done. Some days are more successful than others.
People aren’t lying when they say it’s hard to balance a baby and a career – it’s tough! I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband and family. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do my job as a parent or a professor. I also acknowledge the privileges I have in a TT position at a R1 institution. There are support systems in place for people like me that don’t exist for women from marginalized communities. That said, I think there needs to be more, much more conversation in the academy about how to support parents and encourage work-life balance.
My one recommendation is to take care of yourself. As this recent NYT article makes clear, there’s no need to punish yourself on a regular basis to prove you’re a good mom. There’s a lot of pressure to perform a certain kind of motherhood in the U.S., but don’t buy it. Trust your instincts and keep your sense of humor.
What’s next for you in terms of research or teaching plans?
I have a couple of ongoing projects in various stages of research and completion. I’m currently guest-editing a special issue of the Russian Language Journal on Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion in the Russian language curriculum. I want our field to be a place that welcomes students and scholars from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds and am devoted to doing what I can to make that happen.
As an outgrowth of my book project, I’ve become interested in the writings of lesser-known women authors of the nineteenth century. I’m currently researching the life and work of Avdot’ia Panaeva (pseudonym N. Stanitskii), the common-law wife of Nikolai Nekrasov. While not typically included in the pantheon of 19th-century Russian writers, Panaeva authored a number of short stories, reviews, novels (some co-authored with Nekrasov), and a sweeping memoir. Her works are fascinating both on the level of content and form, yet nearly nothing exists in English. In the coming years, I’d like to bring more attention to her life and work.