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The prose works of Yevgeny Yevtushenko (yehv-tuh SHEHNG-koh) include Primechaniya k avtobiografii (1963; A Precocious Autobiography, 1963), first published in the Paris periodical L’Express; Talant est’ chudo nesluchainoe: Kniga statei (1980; talent is not an accidental wonder), a collection of essays that are mainly on poetry but also on music, film, and prose; Yagodnye mesta (1981; Wild Berries, 1984), a novel; and Pod kozhey statuey sbobody (pr. 1972; under the skin of the Statue of Liberty), a poetic drama. Yevtushenko also published the novel Ne umirai prezhde smerti (1993; Don’t Die Before You’re Dead, 1995), which is based on the failed 1991 coup d’etat attempted by old-school communists who opposed the government of Mikhail Gorbachev. Yevtushensko was the compiler and wrote the introduction for a one-thousand-page poetry anthology, Twentieth Century Russian Poetry: Silver and Steel (1993). The massive anthology ranges over the entire corpus of Russian poetry in the twentieth century and had to be smuggled out of the country in sections beginning in 1972.

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Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s appeal to a popular audience began with his first verses, which appeared in a sports magazine, Sovjetskiy sport, in 1949. His early publications, full of autobiographical revelations, charmed his audiences by their freshness and sincerity. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, Yevtushenko began to address deeper social and political issues and became known as a dissident voice in Soviet literature. During the period of liberalization under Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Yevtushenko’s personal and political poetry appeared in numerous Soviet journals and newspapers, including Sovjetskiy sport, Yunost, Komsomolskaya pravda, Molodaya gvardiya, Literaturnaya gazeta, Pravda, Znamya, Ogonyok, Rossiya, Novy mir, and Oktyabr. When Stikhi raznykh let (poems of various years) appeared in 1959, twenty thousand copies were sold immediately. The 1962 collection Vzmakh ruki (a wave of the hand) enjoyed a sale of 100,000 copies.

Not all of Yevtushenko’s poetry, however, was so widely appreciated. When the controversial “Babii Yar” was published in Literaturnaya gazeta in 1961, many hostile articles appeared in the Soviet press, such as that of D. Starikov in Literatura i zhizn. It was during this same period that Yevtushenko wrote the script for Dmitri Shostakovich’s moving Thirteenth Symphony (1962), a work that uses the Babii Yar incident as its principal motif. As a tribute to the poem’s power, “Babii Yar” was inscribed in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The New York Philharmonic made a recording of the Shostakovich work featuring Yevtushensko reciting “Babii Yar.” In the early 1960’s, Yevtushenko began to travel abroad, to France, England, and the United States. This exposure made him one of the most popular Soviet poets. Articles about him, as well as his poems, appeared in Paris-Match, London Observer, Der Spiegel, Time, Saturday Review, Holiday, Life, Harper’s Magazine, and many others. Known as a dynamic performer and reciter of poetry, Yevtushenko gave many poetry readings both in the Soviet Union and abroad in a vibrant, declamatory style. He claims to have given 250 in 1961 alone.

Yevtushenko has been recognized throughout his career for both his literary and political achievements. He was given the U.S.S.R. Commission for the Defense of Peace award in 1965, the U.S.S.R. state prize in 1984, and an Order of Red Banner of Labor. His novel Wild Berries was a finalist for the 1985 Ritz Paris Hemingway award for best novel published in English. He has traveled widely and incorporated his observations and reactions into poetry, photography (Invisible Threads), film, drama, essays, and fiction.

Discussion Topics

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How did Yevgeny Yevtushenko make “Babii Yar” a poem of universal significance?

What influences of Walt Whitman are reflected in Yevtushenko’s poetry?

Is writing for nonliterary causes a blemish on the record of a poet like Yevtushenko?

One essay about Yektushenko concerns women in his poetry. What view of women emerges in his work?

Is Yevtushenko likely to be best remembered as a social-political poet or as a lyrical one?


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Brown, Deming. The Last Years of Soviet Russian Literature: Prose Fiction, 1975-1991. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. History and criticism of late Soviet era Russian literature. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Brown, Deming. Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978. A historical and critical study of Russian literature. Includes bibliographic references and an index.

Brown, Edward J. Russian Literature Since the Revolution. Rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. A survey and critical analysis of Soviet literature. Includes bibliographic references.

The Economist. “Past, Implacable.” 306, no. 7535 (January 30, 1988): 75-76. Draws parallels between Yevtushenko’s poetic themes and glasnost, concentrating on “Bukharin’s Widow” and “Monuments Not Yet Erected.”

Hingley, Ronald. Russian Writers and Soviet Society, 1917-1978. New York: Random House, 1979. A history of Russian literature of the Soviet era. Includes a bibliography and index.

Slonim, Mark. Soviet Russian Literature. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. A historical and critical study of Russian literature.

Vanden Heuvel, Katrina. “Yevtushenko Feels a Fresh Wind Blowing.” Progressive 24 (April, 1987): 24-31. Addresses Yevtushenko’s views on Russian politics, poetry’s public service, glasnost, and relations with the West.

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