May 1, 1962
Moscow, Russia, USSR
Yelena Khanga (Russian: Еле́на Абдула́евна Ха́нга; also known as Elena Hanga) was born on 1 May 1962 and raised in Moscow, USSR, and came to the United States in 1990 to write (with Susan Jacoby) Soul to Soul: The Story of a Black Russian American Family: 1865-1992 (). Khanga divides her time between New York City and Moscow.
The daughter of Abdullah Kassim, the first vice-president of Zanzibar (assassinated in 1964) and Lily Khanga (pronounced Han-ga), a historian and educator (née Golden). Yelena's American maternal grandmother was of Polish-Jewish descent and worked as a Russian-English translator for a Soviet news agency. She also claimed to be distant relative to well-known violinist Arnold Steinhardt (her grandmother was the cousin of his father). Her African-American maternal grandfather, Oliver Golden, had a college degree in agronomy from the Tuskegee Institute but was unable to find any work in his field in the USA, and moved to the USSR (Uzbekistan) with his wife to develop the cotton industry there.
Yelena Khanga was the moderator of the Russian television talk show The Domino Effect (). She also moderated Russia's first talk show about sex titled About That (Russian: Про это, Pro Eto (1997–2000)), which tackled such matters as H.I.V./AIDS, homosexuality and workplace sexual harassment; she later commented that the effect of the show “was like a bomb went off.”
She was also a performer with a comedy group in Brighton Beach called Kanotye.
"My grandmother often said, "Learn to write, Yelena, because it is a piece of bread." In the Russia of my youth, it was a prestigious thing to be a writer. Even if you had no money, people still felt your life was graced by art."
"Part of her insistence that I apply myself to my language studies was attributable to the fact that English truly had been a “Piece OF Bread” for her when she lost her job. The unspoken message was that if trouble came…I had a skill to keep me from starving".
- Khanga,, Y., & Jacoby, S. (1992). Soul to soul: A Black Russian American family, 1865-1992. New York: W.W. Norton, pp. 267-268.
- Michael Schwirtz (July 14, 2010). "Revolution? Da. Sexual? Nyet.". The New York Times.