The political and literary direction of Leonid Maksimovich Leonov’s career may reflect the circumstances of his early life. He was the son of Mariya Petrovna Leonova and Maksim Lvovich Leonov, and was born in Moscow on May 31, 1899. His father was originally from a peasant family and was largely self-educated; in addition to ventures as a small merchant, he wrote some poetry and became involved in radical journalism. He was arrested in 1908 on charges of subversion, and two years later he was exiled to Arkhangelsk, in northern Russia.
Leonov was educated in Moscow, where from time to time he published poetry and theater reviews in a newspaper his father had started; for several summers, he worked as a proofreader. In 1918 after he had completed his secondary schooling, Leonov joined his father and settled for a time in Arkhangelsk. After Allied forces that had intervened against the Bolsheviks departed from that city, Leonov joined the Red Army; in addition to working for Krasny voin, an army newspaper, he took part in operations to the south, at Perekop and in the Crimean peninsula. Although on his return to civilian life he was denied admission to Moscow University, he recommenced his literary efforts. In 1923 he was married to Tatiana Mikhailovna Sabashnikova, the daughter of a well-known publisher. With the appearance of major stories and his first novels, Leonov won recognition as an important new figure in Soviet letters.
Early in his career, Leonov met the poet Sergei Yesenin; he also became acquainted with Maxim Gorky, whom he visited in the course of a journey across Europe. Sometimes Leonov’s works came under official reproach, though he was not subjected to the proscription or persecution that befell many other writers. During World War II, he served as a correspondent on major fronts; later, in 1945 and 1946, he was one of Pravda’s reporters at the Nuremberg trials. During the onset of the Cold War, he became involved in a polemical exchange about responsibility for international tensions. In 1960, he was a member of a writers’ delegation that visited the United States. In Leonov’s later works he largely abandoned strictly political concerns, preferring to explore questions of literary criticism and issues of nature conservation. Leonov died in Moscow on August 8, 1994.