A street in New York has been renamed after one of its most famous inhabitants, the dissident Russian poet and writer Sergei Dovlatov. The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, signed in the new law to rename the intersection of 63rd Drive and 108th Street, which was home to the writer from 1979 until his death in 1990, Sergei Dovlatov Way. The mayor’s decision marks the first time a street in New York has ever been named after a Russian writer, and is, according to the mayor’s office, part of new legislation which will see 63 New York streets and public places co-named “in honour of individuals and entities that have made lasting contributions to New York City”. Calls to rename the street after the Russian writer began last year, when a petition put together by Dovlatov fans garnered over 18,000 signatures.
The fans of the cult Russian writer were emboldened to make their appeal after a successful petition last November asking for the co-op board of Dovlatov’s former building to install a plaque in memory of the writer. “It all started with the idea of a memorial plaque,” their statement on change.org reads. “We read Dovlatov in the evenings, watch biographical documentaries and muse at Sergei’s witty depictions of 108th street residents ... and [when] our plan came to fruition when the board voted in favor of the memorial plaque ... we were inspired to think bigger.”
When living in the Soviet Union, Dovlatov circulated his samizdat writings – dissident literature that was self-published and distributed among friends in order to avoid censorship. He was expelled from the Union of Soviet Journalists in 1976, left the Soviet Union in 1978 and finally arrived in New York in 1979. Although he was not published in Russia during his lifetime, Dovlatov was an important figure in New York’s Russian emigre community, becoming co-editor of the liberal, Russian language emigre newspaper The New American. The 11 years he spent living on 63rd Drive saw Dovlatov produce some of his most famous works, including The Zone (1982), The Compromise (1983) and Ours: A Family Album (1989), all of which have been translated into English.