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Pushkinist, 1938 alumnus establishes library collection at APSU

In 1999 when Russia celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its most beloved poet, Alexander Pushkin, many books were written on Pushkin specialists, called Pushkinists. In the Pushkin Encyclopedia, 24 were listed, 23 of whom were Russian. Today, those 23 are deceased.

The 24th and only living Pushkinist is an American and an Austin Peay State University alumnusDr. J. Thomas Shaw, who was born in 1919 in Ashland City, where brother G. Wyatt Shaw still lives. The family traces its lineage to the first settlers in Cheatham County.
In 1999 when Russia celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its most beloved poet, Alexander Pushkin, many books were written on Pushkin specialists, called Pushkinists. In the Pushkin Encyclopedia, 24 were listed, 23 of whom were Russian. Today, those 23 are deceased.

The 24th and only living Pushkinist is an American and an Austin Peay State University alumnusDr. J. Thomas Shaw, who was born in 1919 in Ashland City, where brother G. Wyatt Shaw still lives. The family traces its lineage to the first settlers in Cheatham County.

Now professor emeritus of Slavic languages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Shaw gave APSU $50,000 to establish an endowment for literature with the books to be housed in Woodward Library. He hopes others will contribute to the Shaw Collection or initiate others.

In 1936 when Shaw enrolled at Austin Peay Normal School, it was a two-year school for teachers. “Like many others, I was a child of the Great Depression,” Shaw said. “There was no money, no scholarships available and no money to be borrowed.”

Thanks to then President P.P. Claxton, who helped him find a part-time job, Shaw graduated in 1938 and went on to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville for his bachelor's and master's degrees before World War II sidetracked his education.

After an intensive course at the U.S. Navy Oriental Languages School, Shaw was assigned to Siberia as an officer in the Navy's weather center, established to provide weather forecasts for the invasion of Japan. It was a defining point in his life and career.

When he returned to the U.S., he could include Russian language and literature among his credentials. He enrolled at Harvard University, using his money from the G.I Bill to earn a Ph.D.
From 1949-61, he taught at Indiana University. In 1961, officials from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recruited him as department chair and tasked him with building up the program to make it competitive with the country's top Slavic languages departments.

Since retiring 16 years ago from the University of Wisconsin, he has published or republished 23 volumesthree of them in Moscow in Russian translationwith two more due out this year. Because of his scholarly work, most experts say he is one of the world's top scholars of Russian literature.

In his personal opinion, his most important contribution to the development of the profession began 50 years ago when he became the founder and longtime editor of The Slavic and East European Journal, the field's most respected scholarly journal.

The first Westerner to have focused his entire career on the works of Pushkin, Shaw is best known in English-speaking countries for his three-volume annotated translation of “The Letters of Alexander Pushkin,” published in 1963 with later editions.

However, the Russians know him best for his 40-year project on Pushkin's rhyming, which resulted in the only Rhyme Dictionaries and the only Concordances of the Poetry of Pushkin. “The Russians think of me as ‘the patriarch' of American Pushkin studies,” he said. “In America, I'm considered the ‘dean' of Pushkin specialists.”

When the North American Pushkin Society was established in 1992, Shaw was elected Honorary President in Perpetuum. “They could not have guessed how long ‘perpetuum' would turn out to be,” he said, jokingly.

To contribute to the Shaw endowment at APSU, telephone (931) 221-7127. — Dennie B. Burke