Graduate Essay Prize

AWSS Graduate Essay Prize 2016

The Graduate Essay Prize Committee is delighted to award the graduate essay prize to Joy Neumeyer, a Ph.D. student in History at the University of California at Berkeley, for her masterful essay, "Brezhnev, Vysotsky, and the Death of Developed Socialism: A Tragic Farce in Five Acts." The committee was unanimous in their great appreciation of this essay. It is beautifully written, a pleasure to read, and the rare scholarly piece that makes an effective argument through an engaging and analytical narrative structure. By contrasting the cult of Brezhnev and the cult of Vysotsky as the "twin faces of late socialism," Neumeyer captures the cultural atmosphere of the late Brezhnev years. On the one hand, Brezhnev was becoming a living corpse, "every year, the medals on his chest expanded while his wrinkles grew deeper and his speech slurred." Vysotsky, on the other hand, was a dynamic and popular figure, but he, too, was linked to death "through his songs and his signature role of Hamlet" and because of his addiction to drugs. Neumeyer tells their two stories in parallel, illuminating the frustrations of the Brezhnev era through underground jokes, Vysotsky's lyrics, and the population's reactions to the these two men as they lived and died. While fans despaired at the death of Vysotsky, they were secretly relieved at the passing of Brezhnev from a living corpse into a dead one, and aware that his death made a new era possible. The committee hopes that Ms. Neumeyer will submit this essay for publication in the near future so that it can receive the wide audience it deserves. For now, we are pleased to award her the AWSS Graduate Essay Prize.

For a list of past recipients click here.