Vasily Makarovich Shukshin, actor, film director, and writer born on 25 July 1929 in a peasant family in the Siberian village of Srostki, located in the Altai krai. In 1933, his father was executed either for sabotage in the kolkhoz or for inciting a riot. For the sake of the family, Shukshin's mother renounced her husband's name, and gave her son her maiden name of Popov. He lived with this name until he turned 16 years old. (Markar Shukshin was posthumously rehabilitated in 1956.)
After finishing the village seven-year school, Vasily Shukshin enrolled in the Biysk Automobile Technical College. Around this time, Shukshin started writing stories and submitting them to a Moscow journal. Presumably, these early submissions were all rejected. Since Shukshin was not in Srostki at the time, the village postmaster misatkenly delivered the returned manuscripts to a Vasily Maksimovich Shukshin, the writer's illiterate uncle, who used the paper to roll cigars. So, unfortunately, these early writings are lost forever.
After two and a half years at the technical college, Shukshin was expelled, possibly because of failing an engine mechanics course, or possibly because of barage of profanity directed at a teacher. He returned to Srostki, but the situation was difficult there, with famine threatening, so, at age 17, Shukshin left the village. He took a job as a metal worker-rigger at a pipe factory in Kaluga. He subsequently worked at a tractor factory in Vladimir and at a train-repair station.
In 1949 he was called up for military duty and served in the Navy as a radio-specialist first on the Baltic Sea, and later on the Black Sea. Suffering from a stomach ulcer, Shukshin was demobilized in 1953. He returned to Srostki, where he taught Russian language and literature while simultaneously serving as director of the village school.
Shukshin had a busy year in 1954. He married Marya Shumskaya (with whom he was to have one daughter). In May of 1954 Shukshin became a candidate member of the Communist Party, and in August of the same year he enrolled in the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography. Shukshin's original plan had been to enroll in the Gorky Institute of Literature, but he missed the application deadline.
Shuksin became a full member of the Communist Party in 1955.
Shukshin had his first major acting role in M. Khutsiev's 1958 film Two Fyodors (Dva Fedora). 1958 was also the year that Shukshin published his first story, Dvoe Na Telege ("Two On A Cart"). The publishing house Molodaya Gvardiya issued his first collection of stories, Selskiye Zhiteli ("Village Residents") in 1963.
In 1963, working out of the Gorky Film Studios, Shukshin produced his first full-length feature film Zhivet Takoi Paren' ("There Lives Such a Fellow"), which won the Golden Lion of Saint Mark Award at the 16th Venice Film Festival. Other films soon followed, such as Vash Syn i Brat ("Your Son and Brother", 1965), Stranniye Liudi ("Strange People", 1969), and Pechki-Lavochki ("Bench by the Stove", 1972).
Shukshin married a second time in 1964, to Lidiya Nikolaevna Fedoseeva, with whom he was to have two more daughters.
Along with his film career, Shukshin continued writing. In 1965 he produced a historical novel, Lyubavini ("The Lyubavins"). It tells the story of a Siberian family and their difficulties in coming to terms with the new Soviet regime being established in their village in the 1920s. The story spans several decades and follows several generations. The second part of the novel, called Druzhba Narodov ("Friendship of Peoples") was not published until 1987.
Shukshin published four more collections of stories: Tam, Vdali ("There In The Distance", 1968), Zemlyaki ("Countrymen", 1970), Kharaktery ("Characters", 1973), and Besedy Pri Yasnoi Lune ("Conversations Under a Clear Moon", 1974). He also penned a second historical novel, Ya Prishel Dat Vam Voliu ("I Have Come To Give You Freedom", 1974), which dealt with the Cossack and peasant revolt led by Stenka Razin in the 17th century. Shukshin had hoped to turn this project into a film as well, but censorship problems prevented it.
Shukshin also wrote a play entitled Energichniye Liudi ("Energetic People"), which was published in Literaturnaya Gazetta in June of 1974.
As a writer, Shukshin is considered a derevenshchik (village writer). He deals with rural settings and themes. The hero of his works is usually a chudak, an eccentric. In the story Odin ("Alone", 1963), a harness-maker loves to forget the drudgery of the day by playing his balalaika, but he must do this in secret because his wife thinks it's merely a distraction. In Mille Pardons, Madame!" (1968), the main character regales visitors with a fanciful tale about his part in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler during World War II. And in Srezal ("Cut Down To Size", 1970), a villager delights in humiliating visiting city intellectuals with what he believes is his superior knowledge, although his understanding of current events is really rather spotty.
This choice of hero sets Shukshin apart from other derevenshchiki. As Kathleen Parthe points out, Shukshin usually chooses as a protagonist, an adult male eccentric who is a truck driver or other nonagricultural worker, whereas the typical derevenshchik writes about old women or children and celebrates the dignity of agricultural labor. Shukshin's heroes live for their nights and weekends away from work, for their own "personal holiday"; the heroes of the derevenshchik are more focused on everyday reality or byt.
Perhaps Shukshin's most famous work is Kalina Krasnaya ("Snowball Berry Red"), which he published as a novel in 1973 and turned into a film (in which he himself starred) in 1974. It is the tale of an eccentric ex-convict who tries to escape his old lifestyle and start afresh with honest labor and a good woman. However, his old gang catches up with him and kills him. For this work, Shukshin was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize in 1976.
Vasily Shukshin died of a heart attack on 2 October 1974 in Kletskii, Volgagrad, while filming Oni Srazhalis Za Rodinu ("The Fought for the Motherland").
After his death, several more collections of Shukshin's stories were published, including: Brat Moi ("My Brother", 1975), Oseniu ("In the Autumn", 1976), Okhota Zhit ("I Want To Live", 1977), and Rasskazy ("Stories", 1977). Do Tretikh Petukhov ("Before the Cock Calls Thrice", 1976) is an extravagant parody of the Russian fairy tale in which Ivan the Fool is sent on a search not for wisdom, but for a certificate attesting to his wisdom. The novella Tochka Zreniya ("Point of View", 1979) describes a matchmaking from four different points of view.
Some posthumously published essays and articles include Nravstvennost est Pravda ("Morality is Truth", 1979) and Voprosy Samomy Sebye ("Questions to Myself", 1986).