Yevtushenko, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich, 1933-

Alternative names
Birth 1933-07-18
English, Russian

Biographical notes:

Russian poet.

From the description of Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko papers, circa 1945-2006. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 462158373


Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko was born on June 18, 1933 in Zima Junction, Siberia. His father, Aleksandr Gangnus, was a geologist who wrote poetry and taught Yevtushenko to love books. His mother, Zinaida Ermolayevna Yevtushenko, was a geologist and a singer. Both of Yevtushenko's grandfathers were victims of Stalin's purges in the late thirties.

After Yevtushenko's parents separated, he went to Moscow with his mother, whose surname he adopted. In the early years of World War II, Yevtushenko and many other children in Moscow were evacuated to Siberia. He returned to Moscow in 1944. After being expelled from school at the age of 15, Yevtushenko briefly joined his father on a geological expedition in Kazakhstan.

Yevtushenko's literary career took off in 1949 with the publication of his first poem in the journal Sovetskii Sport (Soviet Sport). His first book of poetry was published in 1952. He became the youngest member of the Soviet Writer's Union and was admitted to Moscow's Literary Institute, which was highly unusual for someone without a school certificate. However, he eventually left the Literary Institute without graduating.

Stalin's death in 1953 had a tremendous impact on Yevtushenko and his poetry. He witnessed the crowd that resulted in the trampling death of 150 mourners gathered in Moscow's Trubnaia Square. Yevtushenko's shock translated into disillusionment with Stalin and an appreciation for the importance of greater individual responsibility. His subsequent poetry was less conformist, largely anti-Stalinist, and blended public and private themes. Yevtushenko became the most visible of a generation of young, post-Stalinist poets that included Andrei Voznesenskii and Bella Akhmadulina. They revived the Russian tradition of popular poetry readings, attracting tens of thousands of fans to readings in sports stadiums and public squares.

In 1961 Yevtushenko wrote perhaps his best-known work, "Babii Iar." Babii Iar is a ravine in the suburbs of Kiev where tens of thousands of Russian Jews and others were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II. In his poem Yevtushenko noted the absence of a monument to these victims of Nazism and attributed this fact to Russian anti-Semitism. The poem was immensely popular in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet composer Shostakovich developed his Thirteenth Symphony around it and other poems by Yevtushenko. Despite the popularity of "Babii Iar," Yevtushenko was not allowed to give a public reading of the poem in Ukraine until the 1980s.

Yevtushenko's favor with the Soviet government fluctuated. As a result of his defense of Dudintsev's critical novel Not by Bread Alone, Yevtushenko was expelled from the Literary Institute and the Communist Party's youth organization in 1957. He was reinstated under Khrushchev's thaw and given permission to travel and read his verse abroad, where he had gained wide acclaim. He gave poetry readings throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the United States, Cuba, Africa, and Australia. However, after Yevtushenko published his uncensored autobiography in France in 1963, the Soviet government curtailed his public readings and revoked his travel privileges until 1966.

Yevtushenko enjoyed mixed support among Soviet writers and dissidents. Many criticized him for collaborating with the state, largely because he managed to stay out of prison, psychiatric hospitals, and labor camps. However, on numerous occasions Yevtushenko defended fellow writers, including Solzhenitsyn.

In the seventies Yevtushenko ventured into other art forms. He produced a play entitled Pod kozhei statui svobody (Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty) in 1972 and published his first novel, Iagodnye Mesta (Wild Berries), in 1981. He played the leading role in Savva Kulish's 1979 movie Vzlet (Takeoff). He also turned to photography, publishing three books of photographs and exhibiting his work around the world. Yevtushenko wrote and directed two films, Detskii Sad (Kindergarten) and Pokhorony Stalina (Stalin's Funeral).

With the coming of Gorbachev, Yevtushenko became a prominent spokesperson for glasnost. In 1988 he helped establish the Memorial Society with Sakharov to honor the victims of Stalinist repression. In 1989 he was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies in Kharkov, Ukraine. During the 1991 August coup, Yevtushenko joined Yeltsin in the defense of the White House, reciting his hastily written poem "August 19th."

Yevtushenko was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987. He has published over 40 books of poetry and his work has been translated into 72 languages. Yevtushenko has been married to the poet Bella Akhmadulina, to literary translator Galina Semyonovna Sokol, with whom he has one son, and to British translator Jan Butler, with whom he has two sons. He currently lives with his fourth wife, Maria Novikova, and two youngest sons in Moscow and Oklahoma. Yevtushenko teaches at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and at Queens College in New York.

Note: this biographical sketch draws heavily on the biography of Yevtushenko published in the 1994 Current Biography Yearbook.

From the guide to the Yevtushenko, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich, 1933-. Papers, ca. 1920-1999, ca. 1945-1997, (Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.)


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  • Russian poetry
  • Poems
  • Russian literature--20th century


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