We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristina Birk and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristina, what do you want your legacy to be?
Freedom of speech and unconstrained literary thought can change multiple future generations. Words are our birthright and should be handled with care. I would love to be remembered as a Russian writer/storyteller who diligently mastered English to be able to tell sensitive stories (that are off-limits in Russia) to the rest of the world.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It all started with Anton Chekhov’s novella “Ward No. 6”. I was about 14 when I first read it. I was nowhere near leaving Russia at that time. In this novella we are immersed in a provincial lunatic asylum, ward no. six that depicts a metaphorical microcosm of Russian society, where the highly educated paranoid inmates with dangerously creative ideas are hospitalized for reasons of subjectively-proclaimed “incurable insanity”. The clinic is run by a bunch of brainwashed individuals who do much soul-sucking to keep all the big ideas coming from the inmates under the table and tightly locked up. The draconian frustration over the subject matter and my personal experience with the country’s “free speech paranoia” along with people constantly telling me to keep my most libertarian ideas to myself led to the first steps towards writing the very rough sketches of Out of Oblivion in Russian. It took several years before I decided to relocate to NYC and mastered English to a point of bilingual proficiency, so I could write the whole manuscript in a more international or rather “freedom-affiliated” language. It was a wild journey. I hand-wrote multiple chapters while taking the subway, while on my soggy-burrito-breaks in the kitchen of the bar I worked at, on bar napkins before closing the establishment at 4am while surrounded by rowdy cokeheads, you name it! Nabokov was my main motivation in terms of mastering English, because I have always been blown away by his literary verse in both English and Russian. His thickest most complicated novel “Ada” has traveled the world with me—I cherish it, munch on every sentence in it and simply swear by it.
Writing my first novel also helped me develop some new skills and become a screenplay writer, a playwright, a script supervisor, a better translator, and a more multi-faceted creative. I even got a job as a jingle writer at some point to expand my writing horizons and learn to be more concise and simple with my language.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Huntington Library—you can spend hours over there staring at all the natural wonders and art pieces.
The LA Central Library in DTLA—it has a lot of neat little surprises hidden all over. I especially enjoy the Library’s New Maker Space/Studio where they let you 3D print, shoot on a green screen and participate in really cool innovative art projects.
The Last Book Store, The Broad, Disney Hall of Music, the MOCA.
To show my friends some proper beach bumming—I’d take them to Laguna Beach ( my favorite spots are Table Rock, Victoria, and Thousand steps beaches) for a day of tacos, oysters, surfing and tennis at the Top of the World park (the place has the most ridiculously clean tennis courts with the most poetic panoramic views of the mountains and ocean).
Downtown Pasadena—amazing area if you want to hit some cute boutiques, restaurants, vintage stores and see some gorgeous architecture within walking distance.
The Smell in DTLA used to be my favorite punk/indie rock venue for smelly nights of loud music. Not sure if it’s going to reopen.
The Edison (right next to the Smell) is my favorite speak easy bar and jazz venue with a strict dress code in town. It really makes you feel like you time travel when you enter. I love feeling like a flapper there.
I love all the obscure vintage and fashion stores in Little Tokyo.
Korea town is a great neighborhood for exploring some of the most extraordinary Korean basement and milk bars that blast karaoke, KPop and pour super cheap soju like there is no tomorrow. I’ve discovered some really cool old New York-style
bars there too, like HMS Bounty at the Gaylord and The Prince. Additionally, there is plethora of places where you can od on various barbecue extravaganzas, if you are into that kind of thing. I am a big fan of Korean spas too, but you have got to be comfortable with being completely naked, if you decide to go. They even yell at you in Korean if you show up in a bathing suit.
My favorite food spots in LA are The Destroyer in Culver City – an Icelandic cafe with the most delicious biodynamic food items and homemade bread and butter selections + Little Sister in DTLA or Redondo Beach – an upscale Vietnamese place with tons of magical ingredients.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Alina Galaktionova, my wonderful friend who illustrated my novel and Sarah Kolb-Williams the editor of my book and Athena Currier who did the book and cover design.
Yulia Kosynska Alina Galaktionova Christopher Yager