Interview with Marianna Tax Choldin, Author and Educator
Professor and author Marianna Tax Choldin is a tried and true educator with years under her belt teaching and researching with a primary focus on Russian and Library studies. Born and raised in in Hyde Park near Chicago, but always fascinated by Russian history and politics, she explores ideas such as censorship and freedom, and subscribes to revering the power of books and their impact on the world.
One of her many accomplishments is that she helped found Mortenson International Library Center, and with over 25 years at it helm, Choldin aspires to bridge international libraries and librarians from all over the globe, to progress ideas of open societies in order to spur better opportunities for education and tolerance. Her work has been featured in many academic publications and her interviews have been printed by various public forums as well.
As a long time regular, Marianna had been outfitted by Clever Alice for years, and we are honored for our clothing to be packed away on her travels to conferences and countries, libraries and living rooms or anywhere in between while she inspires global growth and heartens sustainable connections.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where my father was a professor at the University of Chicago. I was born at the university hospital, and went through school at the university, from preschool through my PhD—I’m what’s known as a “lifer.” I met my husband in college, and married the day after I graduated. We’ve been together for nearly 58 years!
What do you do for a living?
I am a retired professor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Russian Studies scholar and a librarian in the same field. My research for the last 45 years has dealt with censorship in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet era. I was also the founding director of the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois, which since 1990 has brought librarians from more than 90 countries to the Center.
Can you tell me about someone who has had a big influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
My dear friend and colleague Katya Genieva, director of a major library in Moscow that served the whole country, was a dedicated fighter for tolerance in a population that had lived without it for more than 70 years. Katya’s death in 2015 was a great loss to me personally, and to Russia. We worked together for 25 years, beginning in 1990, on programs to help libraries and librarians throughout the former Soviet Union to modernize and, most important, to help their libraries move from a closed society to an open one. During this period I came to Russia frequently (more than 50 times!) to work with Katya on countless projects in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and cities all over that vast country. I admired and loved Katya and her family, who took me in whenever I came, and who taught me so much about their life and history. I had a marvelous education at the University of Chicago in Russian language, literature, and history, and I was (and remain) fluent in Russian. But education is only one part of the story; real-life experience deepens and broadens education. From Katya I learned that it is possible to live and work in a place like the Soviet Union, and now Russia, without being damaged by the terrible, often life-threatening, events going on around you, to remain uncorrupted and transparent despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
What kind of student were you?
I was a really good student, highly motivated and well-organized. I’m also a glass-half-full person, and I lived in a bubble, an academic community where everyone was a teacher and a researcher or a student. I loved it!
What do you feel most grateful for in your life?
A wonderful family, and opportunities in the U.S. and many other countries to do important and fulfilling work. I’m grateful too that I’ve had the chance to write about my life and experiences, mostly for academic audiences, but most recently for the general public: a memoir and story of my work in Russia called “Garden of Broken Statues: Exploring Censorship in Russia.” I’m proud that the book has been translated into German and Russian. The book ’s available from the publisher, Academic Studies Press.
Can you tell me about one of your happiest memories?
I have so many! Here’s one that I think about often, and with great pleasure: the birth of my identical twin daughters. My husband, Harvey, a sociologist, and I were living in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, for two years, while he was working on a community development project. I got pregnant and, because of some difficulties with the pregnancy I had to return to Chicago. This was a long time ago, before ultrasound, and no one knew that I was carrying twins. I stayed with my parents, and the girls were born, six weeks early, in the same hospital where I was born. An hour before delivery we learned that there were two tiny but healthy girls! I treasure the moments (three minutes apart) when they came into our lives.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite designers?
My favorites are all designers whose clothes I’ve seen, bought, and worn at Clever Alice. I’ve been shopping at Clever Alice in person in Chicago and, recently online, for at least 15 years. The first time I was in the shop I looked around and told Tammie that I was afraid I was too old for her clothes. “Not true,” she said. “I’ll help you find items that are great for you,” and she did. So I’ve been a regular. Porto, Inizio, and Casting are three of my longtime favorites, and I discover new labels all the time, with Tammie’s help. Right now I love Berenik and have several of their black cotton tunics. So comfortable, and I dress them up and down. I have accumulated a lot of jewelry and scarves, mostly from museum gift shops around the world, and they look great with these tunics. On the bottom I wear jeans, or Porto leggings, or dressier pants, mostly black. I love black!