David Bezmozgis: a trailblazer for Russian-Jewish creators in Canada

David Bezmozgis: a trailblazer for Russian-Jewish creators in Canada

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Writer and filmmaker David Bezmozgis

David Bezmozgis’ writing career started out the same way it does for many young artists – with a great deal of “fear and anonymity.” And despite his impressive 20-year career and a long list of accomplishments, he says that not much has changed since then.

“Some of the anonymity goes away, but the sense of believing that the next thing you do is going to work, that is no more of a guarantee than it was when I first started,” said Bezmozgis, the author of Natasha and Other Stories, The Betrayers, and The Free World. His work has also been featured in magazines like Zoetrope, Harper’s and The New Yorker.

Bezmozgis is awriter and filmmaker based in Toronto, and much of his work revolves around the theme of what it means to be a Russian Jew. His books are all highly acclaimed and have won a myriad of different awards.

Born into a Jewish family in Latvia on June 2, 1973, Bezmozgis is the son of an engineer mother and sportsman father. Since moving to Toronto at the age of six, he has become a widely celebrated author, the winner of countless awards and prizes, and an inspiration for other Russian-Jewish creators in Canada.

Bezmozgis has always been interested in writing, and after completing his undergraduate degree in English literature at McGill University, he went to film school in the University of Southern California, as it seemed to be an option that was both artistic and professional.

“Because I didn’t come from a family of writers or artists, I had no idea how you go about and actually become an author, it’s a very ambiguous thing. So, in part as a way of appeasing my parents, I went to film school really because I didn’t know how, practically, I was going to become a writer,” said Bezmozgis, who later went on to direct two of his own films, Natasha and Victoria Day.

Inspired by Jewish writers such as Mordechai Richler, and Isaac Babel, who wrote about the Jewish experience during their lifetimes, Bezmozgis saw there was a lack of literature about his own Russian-Jewish community in Toronto. He took it upon himself to change that.

“I looked around and saw that I was growing up in a community that was interesting and distinct and that nobody had really written about. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the writers that I admired and do the kind of work they had done, just about my own community and my own life,” explained Bezmozgis, who grew up in North York.

While many might consider being an immigrant to be somewhat of a disadvantage, especially in a field where it is often beneficial to have good connections, Bezmozgis believes his Russian-Jewish heritage and the ongoing support of his family, are what made him the person that he is today.

He credits his background for ultimately distinguished him from other artists, and provided him with interesting and original subject matter about a community that fascinated him, which had not been written about before.

“I don’t think connections are that important. I think kids that come from families that are loving and supportive and value education are probably going to be fine no matter what they do, and I had that. I went to a good school, so I was surrounded by people who were serious about learning. I think those the are advantages that I can credit my parents for providing,” said Bezmozgis.

As for his future endeavours, Bezmozgis plans on writing more books and short stories. In addition, he is going to be taking over as director of the creative writing program at Humber College in Toronto. He hopes to help guide and cultivate a community of writers in both students and published authors.

Throughout his career, Bezmozgis has inspired many young Russian Jews in Canada to embrace their heritage, and he has become a notable figure in Toronto’s Russian-Jewish community. Ultimately, what readers can learn from his work and success is that every community deserves to have a voice, and that even stories about your babushka are worthy of being shared with the world.


Published in the ЯCJN.

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