Although the number of residents in Ulyanovsk is less than 600 000, the city has a rich cultural offer, which allows for proper development. One of the factors that contributes to this is the fact that representatives of over 100 nationalities live in the city. Cultural offerings must therefore be varied to meet the needs of residents.
There are over 30 bookshops in the city, as well as 2 large publishing houses and approx. 40 libraries, including a special library for the blind. In addition, there are 200 libraries operating in schools. People who live in Ulyanovsk show interest in the development of reading; this is evidenced by the fact that in the last 10 years, over 50 000 books have been donated to municipal libraries during the annual “Day of Donation”.
In 1812, writer Ivan Goncharov was born in Ulyanovsk. Known for his realistic novels, he is best known as the author of Oblomov, the protagonist of which is an expression of the “Russian soul”. At the present, there is a Goncharov Museum in the city, which presents the artist’s work. The main street of Ulyanovsk also bears his name.
The Oblomov Literary Festival is an annual celebration of the novel. The event attracts over 5000 people. The motto of the festival – “Get off the couch” – refers to the situation of Goncharov’s protagonist, who lacked motivation to do anything and spent most of his time idly, daydreaming and philosophising. The motto is intended to persuade young people to become active, make an effort and fight against laziness.
Ulyanovsk is also the birthplace of the Russian Walter Scott – in 1976, Nicolai Karamzin was born here. He was a writer, publicist and historian, the first Russian author of historical novels. In 1848, one of the first public libraries – called Karamzinskaya – in the area was built in Karamzin’s honour.
Ulyanovsk is also a city of poets. Born here was Nikolay Yazykov, Russian poet and Slavophile, who established contacts with Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. Yazykov’s former home now houses the Museum of Literature, which was opened in 2000 on the occasion of Pushkin’s 200th birthday. The city is also the birthplace of poet-soldier Denis Davydov, who took part in the Napoleonic wars, becoming famous as the author of the “hussar texts” dedicated to contemporary nobility. Dmitry Sadovnikov is an example of a locally-born poet, folklorist and ethnographer. In his poets, he alluded to Russian folklore, but unfortunately he was not appreciated during his life. He died in poverty and obscurity.
One of the greatest Russian literary critics and satirists – Dmitry Minayevu – was born in Ulyanovsk. He lived in the 19th century, and worked on translation and writing for many literary journals, as well as writing poetry and satires.
Every year, the International Sergey Mikhalkov Children’s Literature Competition is organised in the city. The name of the competition refers to a contemporary author of children’s books. The competition is designed to promote Russian-language artists in the world, while the works in the competition are judged by a professional jury, composed of literature experts, publishers and librarians.
Ulyanovsk is also the place of literary salons, which gather writers, critics and readers. During the meetings, discussions about art and culture-related subjects take place.