The UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016

Both the UK and Russia have widely-spoken languages and rich literary traditions. We share a deeply held respect for each other’s culture and literature. Therefore, we are proud to announce a joint celebration of written and spoken culture: The UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016. The Year aims to build on the success of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, ensuring meaningful and sustained collaboration in the cultural sphere between the UK and Russia.

The British Council leads the UK’s Year of Language and Literature in Russia and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs leads Russia’s celebrations in the UK. As part of the programme developed with support from VisitBritain and UKTI (UK Trade and Investment), an ambitious series of events will be held across Russia throughout 2016.

The British Council is also pleased to announce BP as the UK Founder Sponsor of the Year of Language and Literature.

As the Year coincides with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death many events will celebrate the enduring influence of the playwright’s works on global and Russian culture, and will increase interest in studying English and British literature among Russian audiences.

About the programme

The Year programme kicked off in January with the launch of a massive open online course (MOOC) based on Shakespeare’s works. In February, a new TheatreHD season begins. Cinemas in 40 Russian cities and across the CIS will host live screenings of the most impressive productions performed at the Royal National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Barbican. 

In May, famous characters from the Bard’s works were brought to life in the interiors of carriages on the Filovskaya line of the Moscow Metro. Spring 2016 saw joint exhibitions at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Portrait Gallery in London, celebrating the 160th anniversary of the founding of both institutions. Moscow audiences had an opportunity to see the famous Chandos portrait of Shakespeare for the very first time. At the same time, the British Council runs a competition for Russian translators of British literature and a bursary scheme for Russian publishers, and 150,000 schoolchildren across Russia will take part in the Shakespeare Olympiad. While preparing for the Olympiad they may well take advantage of a new online resource developed by VisitBritain as part of the Year: an interactive literary map of the UK.

In September, a series of professional seminars and public lectures for Russian and British literary specialists will be held at Yasnaya Polyana.

At the end of October, the 17th New British Film Festival will feature a special programme of Shakespearean screen adaptations. In November, at Moscow’s Non/fiction bookfair 2016, visitors will enjoy an extensive cultural programme with the participation of a number of famous British writers.

Key events in the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016

"Exploring English: Shakespeare" Online Course

In 2016 a free online educational course on the life and works of William Shakespeare developed by the British Council and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was launched on the FutureLearn platform. This intensive, 6 week course consists of a series of lectures and video lessons featuring British actors. The course is mainly based on five of Shakespeare’s plays – Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, The Tempest and Macbeth.  The course also examines Shakespeare’s contribution to linguistic innovation, with learners discovering which words and linguistic rules appeared in the English language thanks to the works of the great poet and playwright.

Literary translation competition

In April-September 2016, the British Council holds an open competition for the best translation of works by contemporary British writers. Competition entrants are presented with the first chapters of 12 works written by contemporary British authors.  The authors of the best translations will receive a cash prize. Both amateur and professional translators are invited to take part in the competition. An expert panel will judge the work of participants, including contributors to literary journals, critics, editors and recognised specialists of literary translation. The translations of the competition winners will be published online and also in one of the Russian periodicals. 

The competition is held with the aim of presenting the best translations of works by contemporary British writers to Russian publishers. The project will increase publishers’ and translators’ interest in contemporary British literature, presenting new writers to Russian audiences and also helping to continue a professional dialogue between publishers in the UK and in Russia.

Bursary scheme for publishers

In parallel with the translation competition, a bursary scheme to support UK authors published in Russian translation is opened for Russian publishers, which includes grants for translation and marketing campaigns. The aim of the programme is to promote contemporary UK writers of fiction and non-fiction all over Russia. 12 grants up to 2000 GBP are available.

"Shakespeare on the Moscow Metro"

On 24th May 2016 the British Council together with the Moscow Metro launched a specially liveried "Shakespeare train" on the Filiovskaya line to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death as part of UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016 and the “Poetry on the Metro” project.


British Council in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia is pleased to announce a “Shakespeariad”: a series of creative challenges and competitions inspired by Shakespeare, including Shakespearean Lesson on 25 April 2016, teachers’ competition, competition "Young Shakespeare", Illustrated Shakespeare contest and Re:Shakespeare challenge for those who would like to become the co-author of the great playwright.

The main events of the Shakespeariad will be incorporated into the National Schools Olympiad in English, Art, Literature and World Art and Culture, open to all Russian schoolchildren: it is expected to include over 2 million participants. The most active participating schools will receive prizes from UK publishers, and winning students will travel to the UK for short study trips in leading British schools.

From Elizabeth to Victoria. English Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery collection exhibition

In spring 2016, the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Portrait Gallery in London celebrated the 160th anniversary of the establishment of their institutions. To mark this anniversary both galleries presented joint exhibitions of masterpieces from their collections.

Portraits of some of Russia’s greatest cultural figures, including Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky were on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London and visitors to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow had a chance to see portraits of Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth I and many more famous Britons. As part of the parallel programme to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition in Moscow, the British Council presented an educational programme, including 11 lectures on key figures, instrumental in forming the history of Great Britain. You can find video lectures of the educational programme as well as the reviews of the exhibition creators and impressions of well-known experts on our website.

Exhibition "From Elizabeth to Victoria. English Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery collection exhibition"
The State Tretyakov Gallery
22 April - 24 July

Future of the Word Forum: future of literature and language in the digital era

In June 2016 British Council in partnership with Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design held a 3-day forum, "Future of the Word", devoted to the perspectives of reading culture, publishing industry and literary process in the UK and Russia.

The core of the festival was a wide-ranging Language and Literature hackathon where British and Russian professionals in digital technologies, publishing, media, design, software programming and writers, journalists, literature critics, linguists worked together to develop the ideas of the word and digital innovation.

Apart from the hackathon, which was an industry-oriented event, there was an extensive public programme with a series of talks, round tables and discussions with key speakers, live-streamed sessions, evening film screenings and meet-up activities.

Future of the Word is not the first British Council’s big project in partnership with Strelka Institute. Strelka Institute for media, architecture and design is an international educational project. Strelka proposes research programmes on urbanism and the influence of technology on the modern city for international students, publishes books on architecture and design and curates its own public programme.

Midsummer Night Festival in Moscow

One of the main events of the Year was a large-scale Midsummer Night Festival dedicated to Shakespeare. The programme included music concerts, theatre productions, film screenings, lectures, master-classes and much more.

Specially for the Festival, the British Council, with the support of the British Film Institute prepared a retrospective of screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. This included classic and contemporary productions, as well as the very first archive films on the playwright’s works, produced during the silent film era. Audiences also had access to an extensive educational programme of lectures, discussions and masterclasses.

Literature seminar at Yasnaya Polyana 15-18 September

Established in Germany in 1989, the British Council Literature Seminar is the British Council's largest and longest running annual literature seminar outside of the UK. This September the seminar will take place in Russia for the first time, hosted by Yasnaya Polyana, the Estate-museum of Leo Tolstoy (Tula region).

The aim of the seminar is to bring together academics, publishers, translators and literary journalists to discuss writing today with authors from the UK whose work represents different aspects of contemporary literature.

The British participants of the seminar include award-winning and critically acclaimed authors such as Sunjeev Sahota, Louise Welsh and Owen Sheers alongside experienced literature professionals from the UK Ruth Borthwick (Arvon Foundation) and Cortina Butler (British Council Literature).

Sonnets Exchange

The “Sonnets Exchange” project gathered six contemporary UK and Russian poets for a series of events dedicated to translation of contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare sonnets supported by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edwin Morgan Trust.

Scottish poets Stewart Sanderson, Christine De Luca, British poet Jen Hadfield and Russian poets Marina Boroditskaya, Grigory Kruzhkov and Lev Oborin participated in a three day translation workshop in Moscow on 5th - 7th September in Dostoevsky’s Library. The public readings of the poems, and their translations into both languages, took place in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

The 17th New British Film Festival

In October-November 2016, the British Council together with CoolConnections will hold the 17th New British Film Festival, with screenings set to take place in 30 cities across Russia for the first time.

As part of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature and to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, a special programme of films will be shown, including screenings of Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. There will be screenings of a range of documentary and short films, and a series of discussions and round tables on the development of the international film industry with the participation of invited experts and Festival guests: New British Film Festival Talks.

Details of the programme will be announced in autumn 2016 at

UK at the 18th International Book Fair Non/Fiction 2016

In December 2016, a delegation of British writers and publishers took part in the 18th International Book Fair non/fictio№. During 6 days of main and parallel programmes more than 6500 visitors attended 76 events of the Guest of Honour. Among the invited authors there are Julian Barnes, Sebastian Faulks, Jonathan Coe and many others that represent the diverse British literature scene.

TheatreHD: screenings of British productions as part of the Shakespeare Lives festival

In February 2016, the British Council and CoolConnections launched a new TheatreHD season, with live HD screenings and recordings of performances by leading British theatres to be shown in 50 cities across Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Without leaving their home city, viewers have a chance to see outstanding productions recorded at the Royal National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Barbican, featuring international stars such as Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Steven Fry.

UK Literary Map

As part of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature, VisitBritain developed an online, interactive literary map of the UK. This map acts as a guide to places linked to the life and works of famous British writers and poets, as well as regions and cities, where events unfold in some of Britain’s most well-known literary works. The map not only enables you to go on a virtual excursion of the UK but also to create a unique literary route whilst journeying digitally through the UK.

Photo exhibition "Shakespeare lives in Domodedovo airport"

From 23rd April to 30th June, 2016 visitors to one of the largest airports in Russia - Domodedovo - were able to visit a unique photo exhibition "Shakespeare lives in Domodedovo airport", dedicated to the life and works of William Shakespeare on his 400-anniversary.


The British Embassy and the “Interregional Reading Federation” (a non-commercial partnership) sent a bilingual book of sonnets by William Shakespeare on a journey around a  hundred Russian cities. The book is travelling all the way from Sakhalin to Kaliningrad as part of  the ‘Otkroy rot’ reading competition. In each city the finalists recite Shakespeare’s poetry. The aim of this participatory project is to emphasise the importance of Shakespeare’s heritage not only for Great Britain, but for the whole world, including remote regions of Russia. Details of how to follow the book’s journey around Russia are announced via social media.