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 a joint celebration of written and spoken culture, The UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016, aimed 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 led the UK’s Year of Language and Literature in Russia and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs led 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 was held across Russia throughout 2016.

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

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

March – December – "Shakespeariad"

The Shakespeariad is 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 were incorporated into the National Schools Olympiad in English, Art, Literature and World Art and Culture, open to all Russian schoolchildren.

The Shakespeariad was organized by the British Council in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia.

18 March – Cambridge Grammar Day with Raymond Murphy

Cambridge University Press and the British Council organized a special event celebrating English Grammar and 30 years of legendary English Grammar in Use series. The event featured a talk by Raymond Murphy on Teaching English Grammar followed by Duncan Christelow with ‘Teaching and Learning Grammar in the Digital Age’, interview with Raymond Murphy, questions from the audience, a fun lottery and a book signing session.

April – December – Shakespeare plays by the Chekhov Festival

The Chekhov International Theatre Festival, supported by the British Council, organized performances of Shakespeare’s spectacular plays Twelfth Night and The Tempest by the UK theatre director Declan Donnellan and set designer Nick Ormerod as part of their international projects programme. The shows took place in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and other Russian regions bringing international project.

22 April – 24 July – 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.

23 April – 2 August – Photo exhibition "Shakespeare lives in Domodedovo airport"

From 23rd April to 2nd August 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.


25 April – 1 September – All-Russia literary translation competition

In April-September 2016, the British Council held an open competition for the best translation of works by contemporary British writers. Competition entrants were presented with the first chapters of 12 works written by contemporary British authors. Both amateur and professional translators were invited to take part in the competition. An expert panel judged the work of participants, including contributors to literary journals, critics, editors and recognised specialists of literary translation.

The competition was held with the aim of presenting the best translations of works by contemporary British writers to Russian publishers. The project increased 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.

24 May 2016 – 31 March 2017 – "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.

The exterior of the carriages is decorated with photos of Muscovites experiencing being magically transported into Shakespeare's time (and costumes) by their passions. Each larger-than-life portrait is surrounded by emoji for love, hate, power, conflict and so on. The same emojis are found inside the carriages illustrating Shakespearean quotations related to passions. 

Now the train can be found on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line of the Moscow Metro.

Photos and video

2-4 June – 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.

21 June – 1 July – Midsummer Night Festival

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.

21-23 July – SELECTOR PRO music forum

In July 2016 the British Council, in collaboration with the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, hosted SELECTOR PRO, a music forum bringing together specialists in the music world from both Russia and the UK to provide a unique insight into the latest music trends.

The programme for professionals included lectures, workshops, and discussions. John Robb, rock-musician, music theoretician, author of the bestseller Punk Rock: An Oral History, and Simon Reynolds, already known to Russian audiences for his book Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past, took part in the forum as lecturers.

A public programme created in collaboration with the Beat Film Festival included the documentary The Man from Mo'Wax about the life and career of underground DJ icon, music producer and global trip hop mogul James Lavelle, presented by its director, Matthew Jones.

September 2016 - March 2017 – Sonnets Exchange

In September 2016 Scottish poets Stewart SandersonChristine De Luca, British poet Jen Hadfield and Russian poets Marina BoroditskayaGrigory Kruzhkov and Lev Oborin participated in a three day translation workshop in Moscow in Dostoevsky’s Library. Taking Shakespeare's sonnets as a starting point, either thematically or formally, poets came together to work on translations of each other’s work and share ideas on how Shakespeare's poetry can enrich the ways in which poets are writing today. The public readings of the poems, and their translations into both languages, took place in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Six months on, in March 2017, the poets reunited in Scotland to present their final works, along with a trilingual anthology of poems – four from each poet.

15-18 September – Literature seminar at Yasnaya Polyana

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 took 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 included 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).

5-9 October – Education UK Exhibition

In October the British Council invited visitors to the annual Education UK exhibition in three cities: Moscow (7-8 October), Saint-Petersburg (9 October) and Ekaterinburg (5 October). 

The exhibition visitors had a unique chance to discover study opportunities in more than 50 leading British schools and universities. UK institutions presented their programmes for secondary, higher and business education, as well as summer programmes and short courses for children and adults. 

The exhibition’s unique programme was comprised of various workshops, prize-winning competitions and alumni talks. All visitors had the opportunity to speak with students and graduates from British universities. In addition, they were able to learn about UK study grants, scholarships and how to build a creative portfolio.

24 October – 7 November – TransLit: a travelling art residency

The so-called ‘TransLit’ project is an art residency which travelled along the route of Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway. The party of Russian and British writers, artists, photographers and musicians gathered by the British Council explored and performed in five Russian cities: Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk.

Acclaimed British writer and researcher Andrew Dickson spoke about different interpretations of Shakespeare that he had discovered around the world. Award-winning novelists Alisa Ganieva and Joe Dunthorne read from their work and discussed contemporary British and Russian literature with critic Konstantin MilchinGruff Rhys, the frontman of psychedelic Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals, met with local musicians and performed songs written en route. 

Following the trip, fellow-traveller and British media artist Francesca Panetta curated creative responses from all the travellers – including those of renowned Russian photographer Maxim Avdeev and documentary filmmaker Arseny Khachaturyan –  into a bilingual, multimedia special project "The Storytellers" for new culture website, InRussia.

26 October – 6 November – The 17th New British Film Festival

In October-November 2016, the British Council together with CoolConnections held 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 was shown, including screenings of Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. There were 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.

15 November 2016 – 15 February 2017 – Bursary scheme for publishers

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.

24-26 November – International Conference for ELT professionals

The 3rd annual international conference was held in core partnership with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST MIS&S) and the Russian Academic Excellence Initiative (widely known as the 5-100 Project). This international forum was dedicated to addressing key issues related to the teaching of English as the global language of science and education and was for ELT professionals actively engaged in or interested in learning more about ESP, EAP and EMI.

30 November – Spell Well: the first public dictation in English

The first public dictation in English, read by the famous Russian and American journalist Vladimir Pozner, was held by the British Council in core partnership with The Citizens' Language Culture Support Foundation "Total dictation". BKC-IH Moscow, officially authorised IELTS provider, supported the English counterpart of the event. The main objective of the project is to attract public attention to the issues of literacy and writing culture.

30 November – 4 December – UK at the 18th International Book Fair Non/Fiction

The United Kingdom became the Country of Honour at the 18th International Book Fair for High-Quality Fiction and Non-Fiction for the first time in its history.

The UK Pavilion hosted special events throughout the fair including readings, performances, seminars for publishers, signing sessions and receptions. Among the invited authors there were Julian Barnes, Sebastian Faulks, Jonathan Coe and many others that represent the diverse British literature scene. A delegation of a nine book publishers and literary agents from the UK also participated in a professional programme at the Fair, where they met Russian colleagues to exchange experience and knowledge and establish closer co-operation.

During 6 days of main and parallel programmes more than 6500 visitors attended 76 events of the Guest of Honour. 

11 December - Premiere of the documentary film “Shakespeare. Warning to the kings...” by Vladimir Pozner

The British Council and the famous Russian and American journalist Vladimir Pozner produced a documentary film called “Shakespeare. Warning to the kings...”, which premiered on December 11 on Russian Channel 1. The documentary contains artistic elements – small fragments from Shakespeare’s works. The journalist also interviewed famous actors for the film, which included Cate Blanchett and Joseph and Ralph Fiennes.

Emoji Shakespeare App

Arzamas, the Moscow-based educational website, with the support of the British Council Russia, launched a free Emoji Shakespeare game app for smartphones. 

The idea of this game is to fill in blanks in famous Shakespearean quotes with emoji and it features sonnets, comedies, tragedies, histories, and other works of the great poet and playwright. From Twelfth Night to Macbeth, from Hamlet to The Taming of the Shrew, from Henry IV to Romeo and Juliet, Emoji Shakespeare offers dozens of challenges.

The application is available on the App Store and Google Play starting from the end of April 2016 in both English and Russian.

Free online course “Entire Shakespeare”

The British Council and educational project Arzamas launched the free online course “Entire Shakespeare”. This project is devoted to William Shakespeare, and explores myths about him, his most remarkable plays and their destiny in the theatre during and after the author’s life. The course consists of video lectures, texts and games. Lectures are given by theatre researcher and Shakespeare’s connoisseur Alexey Bartoshevich. 

Arzamas is an educational project, devoted to humanitarian knowledge, with more than 40 literature, art and history courses available on the website in forms of video lectures, tips, photo stories, historical documents and guides. 

"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.

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 had 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.


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 was travelling all the way from Sakhalin to Kaliningrad as part of  the ‘Otkroy rot’ reading competition. In each city the finalists recited Shakespeare’s poetry. The aim of this participatory project was to emphasise the importance of Shakespeare’s heritage not only for Great Britain, but for the whole world, including remote regions of Russia.