A Precocious Autobiography (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
Form and Content
In A Precocious Autobiography, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko gives an account of the first three decades of his life—hence, the title “precocious”—before most people, especially artistic creators, go through the most productive part of their life. The reason for the poet’s premature effort is undoubtedly his conviction that the experiences of his early years, coupled with important changes in the life of his country (the death of Joseph Stalin and the emergence of the postwar generation), are worth telling. He begins with the simple fact that both of his grandfathers were accused as “traitors” and “spies” and vanished in the concentration camps. His paternal great-grandfather was deported from Ukraine to Siberia for rebelling against his landlord. His maternal grandfather was born in Latvia. By stating that “revolution was the religion” of his family, Yevtushenko underscores the tragedy of the demise of his grandfathers, who were old revolutionaries.
The incompatibility of Yevtushenko’s parents—who met as students at the Geological Institute, married, but soon divorced—was another decisive factor in the poet’s life. He spent his childhood torn in his loyalty to his parents. This, along with the war, made his earliest years difficult, although he spent some happy days in his native Siberia, close to nature and to the simple, hardworking people. Yevtushenko grew up on the streets, fighting with his peers, doing poorly in school, and at times being expelled for speaking the truth, a habit that he inherited from his Siberian ancestors.
Yevtushenko discovered early that he liked writing poetry despite receiving bad marks in grammar. He also had a desire to become a professional soccer player. He published his first poem in the magazine Soviet Sport and celebrated it by getting thoroughly drunk. The next day, he had the first trial as a goalie for a soccer team, but, because of his hangover, he saw two balls coming at him at the same time and failed the test; this failure prompted Yevtushenko’s decision to stay with poetry. His rise as a poet was slow but steady. At first, he wrote all kinds of inferior, impersonal verses, but later he turned to writing about his own feelings and thoughts.
Yevtushenko also became increasingly aware of the social problems besetting his society, and he began to voice his concerns. Stalin’s death in 1953 was a turning point in his thinking. He was appalled at the authorities’ insensitivity, allowing many people to be crushed to death during the commotion at the funeral, and saw for the first time the inhumane nature of the government. He decided to speak the truth. As more and more of his books were published and as he read his poems before thousands at poetry gatherings, he became one of the “angry young men” and a spokes-person for his generation, a role that he continued to play.
Yevtushenko’s autobiography is more than an account of his early years. Even though the book...
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Yevtushenko gained national stature in the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s through his popular poetry readings to large audiences. His fame permitted him to travel to the West, enhancing his reputation. Many of his poems praised Soviet economic achievements, criticized United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and portrayed the Soviet Union as a peaceful nation. However, his poetry also criticized Russian anti-Semitism and the dangers of latent Stalinism within the communist leadership.
After unauthorized Western publication of Yevtushenko’s outspoken and self-assured autobiography in 1963, Soviet authorities temporarily forbade him to travel out of the country. His independent voice was heard during the Leonid Brezhnev era, as when he openly supported Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when the latter was deported in 1974—despite public and official condemnation for his temerity in speaking out against Soviet censorship.
The Mikhail Gorbachev years raised Yevtushenko’s hopes for genuine reform. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, he urged Russians to break with the old servile obedience to those in power. His initial support of Boris Yeltsin as a reformer later diminished. Several of his books in the 1990’s have focused more on the challenges facing Russia’s population in the post-Soviet period. Yet optimism is characteristic of Yevtushenko’s poetry and life.
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: World Poets)
Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko was born in Stantsiya Zima, Siberia, in the Soviet Union, on July 18, 1933, of mixed Ukrainian, Russian, and Tartar blood. In his famous poem “Stantsia Zima” (“Zima Junction”), he describes in detail this remote Siberian town on the Trans-Siberian Railway about two hundred miles from Irkutsk and not far from Lake Baikal. Both his grandfathers were victims of Stalinist purges, a fact that helps to explain Yevtushenko’s attitude toward Stalin. Yevtushenko’s father was a geologist, and between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, young Zhenya, as he was familiarly called, accompanied his father on geological expeditions to Kazakhstan and the Altai. His mother, of modest peasant stock, worked as a singer in Moscow during and after the war. His parents’ careers gave Yevtushenko a broad appreciation for common working people and the day-to-day struggles to survive in an authoritarian state.
As a young boy in Moscow, Yevtushenko began to read Russian and foreign classics, familiarizing himself not only with the works of Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov, but also those of Alexandre Dumas, père, Gustave Flaubert, Friedrich Schiller, Honoré de Balzac, Dante, and many other foreign authors. In 1941, he was evacuated to Zima Junction, where he developed his love for the Siberian taiga and his impassioned opposition to war. When his parents were separated in 1944, he returned to Moscow with his mother. His education from 1944 to 1948 was very desultory, and when he was expelled from school at fifteen, he ran off to join his father in Siberia for two years.
Among Yevtushenko’s many interests was sports, and it was not accidental that his first verses were published in a sports magazine. He met the editors Tarasov and Barlas, who became his first mentors, although his continued interest in reading led him to other models, especially Ernest Hemingway, Aleksandr Blok, Sergei Esenin, andVladimir Mayakovsky. Yevtushenko wrote in the style of the times, paying lip service to Stalin until the latter’s death in 1953.
The year 1953 was a turning point in Yevtushenko’s life, for along with many other Russians,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko (yehv-tew-SHEHNG-koh) was born on July 18, 1933, at Stantsiya Zima, a small Siberian junction near Lake Baikal, in the Soviet Union (now in Russia). Some of his ancestors had been deported to Siberia from Ukraine at the end of the nineteenth century for political activities. Other relatives came from Latvia. “Revolution was the religion in our family,” Yevtushenko says in his autobiography. He spent his childhood amid the serene beauty of Siberian nature but also troubled by political uncertainty: Both of his grandfathers were swept away during the purges ordered by Joseph Stalin in the late 1930’s. His parents studied geology in Moscow, married, and were divorced before World War II. His mother took Yevtushenko to Moscow, but he was evacuated to Zima during the war, where he spent three years.
Back in Moscow, growing up in postwar hardship, he was belligerent and was even thrown out of one school. He surmounted the difficulties, however, and even began to write poetry. For a while, he joined his father in a geological expedition in Kazakhstan and later almost became a professional soccer player. After publishing his first poem in 1949, appropriately in Soviet Sport, he concentrated on literature and entered the famous Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. From the beginning of the 1950’s, he published his poems with increasing success. The publication of his first book, Razvedchicki gryadushchego (1952; prospectors of the future), decided his fate: He devoted his life to poetry and published numerous books with regularity.
The emotional appeal of his poetry and his innate...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Yevgeny Yevtushenko started his poetic career in a modern idiom, aware that he was helping to bring something new to Russian poetry and that the torch had been passed to a new generation. As he matured, he became increasingly involved in political matters or matters that he believed deserved personal commitment. In this, he played the traditional role of a Russian poet as the conscience of the nation. At the same time, he never compromised his artistic standards to the point of becoming a spokesman for nonliterary causes, of which he has often been accused. It is indeed his artistic qualities that have made him a leading poet in twentieth century Russian literature.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko (yehv-tew-SHEHNG-koh) is considered, with Andrey Voznesensky, among the best representatives of the generation of Russian poets after Stalin’s death. He was born at Zima Station, a small Siberian junction near Lake Baika. His ancestors had been deported from Ukraine for political reasons. He spent his childhood surrounded by beautiful Siberian nature but also amid political uncertainty: Both of his grandfathers were purged in the late 1930’s. After World War II his mother took him to Moscow, where he began to write poetry and almost became a professional soccer player. He published his first poem in 1949, then entered the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow and, after publishing his first...
(The entire section is 848 words.)