Profile with Cristina Bejan

Cristina Bejan (North Carolina & Wadham 2004) is currently a Research Scholar in the Center for European Studies and a Visiting Scholar in History at Duke University. She will soon begin research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. She holds a MSt and DPhil in Modern History from Oxford University and a BA in Philosophy and Theater from Northwestern University.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in Durham?

Cristina Bejan: I’m actually moving from Durham in two weeks. My favorite thing to do in Durham is to go out to dinner with a friend, see a play downtown and then discuss it afterwards on an outdoor terrace.

Rhodes Project: What is currently playing on your iPod?

Cristina Bejan: A.R. Rahman. 

Rhodes Project: Who is your favorite playwright?

Cristina Bejan: At the moment, Caryl Churchill. I love her. She wrote Mad Forest about the Romanian Revolution.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in theatre?

Cristina Bejan: I first became interested as a child. Growing up, my mother always took us to the theater. I’d say I’ve been interested in theater ever since I was cognizant. 

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about the research you are doing now?

Cristina Bejan: I’m working on a project about cultural society in Romania called the Criterion Association. It’s the Romanian equivalent of the Bloomsbury Group. It is a modernist progressive cultural circle that operated in the early 1930s. They discussed such wide-ranging topics as Gandhi, Greta Garbo, Lenin and Mussolini. They also had their own series of artistic exhibitions and theater performances in addition to their political discussions. The society collapsed due to the rise of fascism in Romania. As the constitutional monarchy was disintegrating, this cultural group died and fascism took over. Democracy collapsed all over the country, but the group was focused in Bucharest. This is my first book project that’s based off of my PhD research and it is tentatively titled The Icarus of Interwar Bucharest: the Criterion Association’s Descent into Fascism. I have a publisher to send it to as soon as I finish the manuscript. I’ll be working on that.

My most recent update is that I just accepted a job at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have my position at Duke until 2015 but I’ll be moving back to Washington in a few weeks to start research at the museum. The museum has a Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, and I will be working on The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos. I’ll be a researcher to draft encyclopedia entries. It is a seven-volume series and this volume focuses on Eastern Europe and Vichy France and Africa, which is why they commissioned me. I’m an Eastern Europeanist and actually worked at the museum in 2009. I was the Yetta and Jacob Gelman Research Fellow on the Holocaust in Romania there to write up my PhD. I’m really excited to be back in that environment. I love my colleagues there and, of course, I couldn’t believe more in the mission of the museum. I’m really looking forward to being in that milieu again.

Creatively my friend, collaborator and fellow playwright Rucsandra Pop and I are starting a new arts and culture collective called ‘Bucharest Inside the Beltway.’ Inspired by the vibrant and progressive artistic world of Bucharest, we aim to be a space of collaboration between local and international, as well as amateur and professional artists, in Washington DC, and we aim to be a platform for all forms of artistic expression, all languages. You can visit us here: bucharestinsidethebeltway.com.

I am currently working on my next play entitled LADY GODIVA, it’s a two-person play about trauma and overcoming that trauma, specifically the crimes of communist Romania, rape and mental illness. The play is gearing up for production in Washington DC in 2015 and will promote the relevant charities RAINN and NAMI.

Otherwise I continue to write poetry in (mostly) English, Romanian and German. I am excited to be back on the slam poetry scene in Washington. When I lived there before I was a Busboys and Poets regular.

Rhodes Project:  Can you tell me about a favorite past project – a course you taught, an article?

Cristina Bejan: My favorite past project would probably be the play that I directed while I was working in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. When I was in Oxford I started a women’s theater company with a friend called Theatre Fille de Chambre. We performed numerous pieces by female playwrights and focused on having female actors. When I was in Vanuatu, I decided I wanted to divide the work with local female performers. We met every day at the central NGO office in Port Vila, the capital. The play was organically created by conversations that took place between the women at this regular meeting group. We also worked at the University of the South Pacific at their campus in Port Vila.  We came up with a play about a day in the life of three women in Port Vila, Vanuatu. It explored domestic violence, the expatriate community—Vanuatu was a shared colony between France and Britain, called the New Hebrides (in 2010 she celebrated her 30th Anniversary of Independence), and now there is quite a large Peace Corps contingent there--and the race relations on the island between the local people and the expatriate community. A local singer wrote the music for it and afterwards we had a talk-back session sponsored by UNIFEM. I am particularly proud of that project.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?  

Cristina Bejan:  I’m a historian, so it would have to be time travel. I would love to be able to visit the places and meet the people I’ve studied. I envy anthropologists so much because they actually get to know their subjects. I’ve always wanted to meet Mircea Eliade, who is the central intellectual that I study. He had a number of disciples who studied with him and I met one of them, Mac Linscott Ricketts, in 2009. He is retired and living in the mountains of rural Virginia. Meeting him was the closest I ever came to meeting Eliade, so that was a spiritual experience. If I could meet Eliade, I would be happy.  

Rhodes Project: If you could meet one female historical figure, who would it be and why?

Cristina Bejan: It would have to be Maitreyi Devi, protégé of Tagore and the subject of Eliade’s best-selling book Maitreyi. In his book of autobiographical fiction Eliade describes an aborted love affair with a young Indian woman when the protagonist is living in Calcutta/Kolkata. Maitreyi spent her life denying an affair happened, wrote her side of the story, entitled It Does Not Die, and confronted Eliade in the 1970s in Chicago. He denied everything. They made a movie in the 80s starring Hugh Grant called Bengal Nights and Maitreyi campaigned to have the film banned. I’d like to meet Maitreyi and hear her side of the story.

Rhodes Project: What do you do just for you?

Cristina Bejan: My two athletic hobbies that I do just for me are yoga and ice skating. I am a certified Vinyasa instructor and I’ve taught yoga in both Washington and Durham. I’m not teaching at the moment because things have been really busy and I’m about to move, but I still practice pretty regularly. As for skating, I was on my university ice hockey team. I was actually thinking that I need to get my skates sharpened before I move back to D.C. because there’s an ice rink on the Mall by the sculpture garden. When I was working in Washington before, I would go ice skating during my lunch break. I’d like to do that again. 

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