Evgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko
Internationally best known poet of the post-Stalin generation of Russian poets. His early poems show influence of Mayakovsky and loyalty to communism, but with such work as The Third Snow (1955). Yevtushenko became a spokesman for the young generation. Throughout the Khrushchev and the Brezhnev periods he travelled widely abroad, giving readings as a symbol of a new freedom in the Soviet Union. The 6-foot-3-inch Siberian poet especially received much attention in the United States.
Evgeny Yevtushenko was born in 1932 in Irkutsk, as a fourth-generation descendant of Ukrainians exiled to Siberia. He moved in 1944 with his mother to Moscow, where he studied at the Gorky Institute of Literature from 1951 to 1954. In 1948 he accompanied his father on geological expeditions to Kazakhstan and to Altai in 1950. His first important narrative poem Zima Junction was published in 1956 but international fame he gained with Babi Yar, in which he denounced the Nazis and at the same clumsily criticized his own country for forgetting the message of the "Internationale". "But those with unclean hands / have often made a jingle of your purest name. / I know the goodness of my land. / How vile these anti-Semites - without a qualm / they pompously called themselves / the Union of the Russian People." Babi Yar is one of a number of literary treatments of a massacre of Jews in occupied Kiev on 29 September 1941. Composer Dimitri Shostakovich set the words to music as part of his Thirteenth Symphony. The poem was not published in Russia until 1984, although it was frequently recited in both Russia and abroad.
The Heirs of Stalin (1961), published presumably with Party approval in Pravda, was not republished until 1987. The poem contained warning that Stalin did not die. "And I appeal / to our government with a plea: / to double, / and treble, the guard at this slab, / so that Stalin will not rise again, / and with Stalin - the past." Yevtushenko dealt with burning topics of the day with strong rhetorical note. He demanded for a greater artistic freedom, and his attacks on Stalinism and bureaucracy in the late 1950s and 60s made him a leader of Soviet youth. However, he was allowed to travel widely in the West until 1963. He then published A Precocious Autobiography in English, and his privileges and favors were withdrawn, but restored two years later. In 1968 he denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the poem 'Russian Tanks in Prague'.
In 1972 Yevtushenko gained a huge success with his play Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty, which was produced in Moscow. Since the 1970s he has been active in many field of culture, writing novels, engaging in acting, film directing, and photography. He directed the film Kindergarten and acted in it, and in 1990 he directed the film Stalin's Funeral. He has also remained politically outspoken and supported in 1974 Solzhenitsyn when the Nobel Prize Winner was arrested and exiled. He sent an immediate telegram of protest to Brezhnev, in which he said that while he disagreed with Solzhenitsyn on many points, the author's explosive study Gulag contained "terrible documented pages about the bloody crimes of the Stalinist past."
In the West Yevtushenko was often criticized for being too "adaptable," but the KGB records have shown him to have been absolutely firm in supporting Solzhenitsyn. He wrote to KGB chief Yuri Andropov, the future general secretary of the Communist Party: "There is only one way out of this situation, but nobody will dare choose it: recognize Solzhenitsyn, restore his membership in the Writers' Union, and afterward, just declare suddenly that Cancer Ward is to be published." Later he also suggested that Boris Pasternak's Nobel Prize in Literature, which the author rejected under pressure by the Soviet Government, should be posthumously restored. "He earned it with his entire life and work," Yevtushenko wrote in an article. His own speeches were constantly censored in magazines. In 1985, when Mikhail S. Gorbachev had just risen to power, Literaturnaya Gazeta, published by the Soviet Writers' Union, left out several major sections of Yevtushenko's remarks about Stalin's purges, the evils of collectivization, and the privileges of the elite. Yevtushenko himself declined to criticize the editing.
Yevtushenko's first novel Wild Berries (1981), was attacked by critics but it became a huge success among readers. In the story, which fused the past and future, history and fantasy,Yevtushenko dealt among others with Stalinist collectivization of agriculture and the elimination of the kulaks, land-owning peasants. The author was advises to stick to poetry. In 1989 Yevtushenko became a member of the Congress of People's Deputies and next year he was appointed vice president of Russian PEN. When Yevtushenko was appointed in 1987 honorary member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Russian-born poet Joseph Brodsky resigned in protest - he considered his colleague a party yes man. Brodsky has bitterly stated: "He throws stones only in directions that are officially sanctioned and approved." Yevtushenko's readers, however, have defended the poet faithfully, stating that "you can't blame him that he survived." In 1993 Yevtushenko received a medal as 'Defender of Free Russia,' which was given those who took part in resisting the hard-line Communist coup in August 1991.
After the accession of Gorbachev to power, Yevtushenko introduced to Soviet readers many poets repressed by Stalin in the journal Ogonek. He rose public awareness of the pollution of Lake Baikal, and when communism collapsed he supported the plan to erect a monument to the victims of Stalinist repression opposite Lubianka, headquarters of the KGB. In Don't Die Before You're Dead (1995) Yevtushenko's gave his satirical account of the August 1991 coup, which eventually lifted Boris Yeltsin to power. In a scene the slain Grand Duchess Olga whispers her last poems into Yeltsin's ear. - Yevtushenko have been married four times: in 1954 he married Bella Akhmadulina, who published her first collection of lyrics in 1962. After divorced he married Galina Semenova. Yevtushenko's third wife was Jan Butler (married in 1978), and fourth Maria Novika (married in 1986).