MOSCOW, SEPT. 14 -- Ellendea Proffer was busy signing autographs for Soviet admirers on the last day of the Moscow Book Fair -- an odd twist of fate for an American publisher who for the previous eight years had been banned from the Soviet Union as an ideological enemy.
"It's almost comic," said Proffer, cofounder of Ann Arbor-based Ardis Publishers, as book lovers pressed into a small booth for a last look at Ardis' display of Russian literature. "I'm famous for all the wrong reasons."
This time, Proffer's celebrity sprang not from publication of books banned in the Soviet Union, but because of a dispute over the works of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of the bitingly satirical allegory "The Master and Margarita," who, once suppressed by authorities, has become a hallowed member of the Soviet literary pantheon.
On the eve of her arrival here, Proffer, a Bulgakov biographer and editor of his complete works, was attacked in a popular newspaper by a group of Soviet writers who accused her of illegally spiriting away Bulgakov material from the state archives.
A week later, her response appeared in an interview in the same newspaper. It was blunt, outspoken and unedited, with even her mistakes in Russian grammar left untouched. In it, Proffer denied that any material given her by friends and relatives of Bulgakov -- who died in 1940 -- had left the country illegally. "Not illegally," she said, "but simply secretly." She noted that no copyright laws had been broken and, further, that she never had access to state archives in the first place.
She also denied a claim made at one time by the late Elena Bulgakov, the writer's widow, that none of her husband's works had ever been given to anyone but Bulgakov's Soviet publishers. "It is a lie," said Proffer in the interview in Sovietskaya Rossiya, noting that Elena Bulgakov had herself passed on her husband's novel "Heart of the Dog" in Paris.
"It is understandable why she lied, but she lied," Proffer said. "She had to lie. She was defending the interests of her writer."
It was this bluntness that won Proffer her fans today. Several came to the Ardis booth at the fair clutching copies of the Sovietskaya Rossiya interview, eager to find Proffer and talk. "We have to be optimists," said one elderly man to Proffer. "You know our Russian literature. You understand that you have to have patience."
"Patience and aggressiveness," added Proffer, as she signed the newspaper column.
Having arrived here on the shirttails of glasnost, Proffer got caught up in one of its increasingly frequent side effects -- a public free-for-all in which literary figures turn to the press to trade accusations and counteraccusations. In the process, Proffer also managed to stretch the ever-changing limits of glasnost a notch further, by getting into print here the names of two Soviet e'migre' writers -- Vladimir Voinovich and Vasily Aksyonov, whose satirical works she compared in the interview to Gogol's.
The dispute over Bulgakov's works had a cutting edge for many Soviet readers, who know that the writer's most famous novel, "The Master and Margarita," was published here only as recently as 1966-1967, decades after the author's death, and that the "Heart of the Dog" was first published here this year, in a literary journal.
Proffer interprets the Bulgakov brouhaha as an internal battle among Soviet literary scholars over the rights to the writer's legacy, which is now being reproduced here in a multivolume collection of his works due out by 1991, the centennial of his birth. Proffer's own version of the Bulgakov canon, also in Russian, is now into its third volume. "I got it out first," she said proudly.
Besides the return of Ardis, which was banned from the country following its publication in 1979 of the unofficial anthology "Metropole," the Moscow Book Fair this year had other dramatic episodes. On the first day of the week-long event, Soviet authorities confiscated 20 titles by e'migre' Soviet writers from the Ardis booth, including books written by Voinovich and Aksyonov. And over the past several days, Soviet officials have accused Israeli publishers of distributing badges and other items "inappropriate" to the purpose of the fair. On Friday a Soviet student newspaper accused the Israelis of seeking to promote emigration of Soviet citizens to Israel.
According to Soviet authorities, about 9,000 letters of intent for book contracts were signed at the end of the biennial fair -- a 50 percent increase over the last fair -- and the official Soviet news agency Tass reported that an agreement has been signed with China for an exchange of book exhibitions with that country.
The most popular Soviet items on display this year were books about economic and social reforms now underway in the Soviet Union. According to American publishers, the hottest of their items sought by Soviet publishers were books on business management.
According to participants, the fair this year was marked by a new liveliness -- featuring a full display by Israeli publishers and a booth organized by followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Indeed, the festival-like atmosphere brought a complaint from Mikhail Nenashev, chairman of the State Publishing Committee, at a closing press conference. He said if the trend continues, the next book fair will feature "gypsies and striptease."