Born in Siberia in 1932, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, novelist, actor, and director who achieved great fame in the Soviet Union during the cultural “Khrushchev Thaw” that occurred following the death of Stalin in 1953. Yevtushenko rose to prominence following the publication of his long poem Babiyy Yar, a work about the Nazi massacre of Jewish citizens in Kiev and the Soviet Union’s refusal to acknowledge it. Notable Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich set the poem to music shortly after its publication. Many years later, in 1991, Yevtushenko received in the American Liberties Medallion: the highest honor conferred by the American Jewish Committee.
As with several other poets of his generation, Yevtushenko had the odd distiction of being a celebrated dissident during a fairly repressive time. This notoriety brought him some success, leading to performances in packed stadiums and frequent reading tours abroad, but also left him open to criticism from both the Soviet government and those that felt his criticisms didn’t go far enough. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1962.
Yevtushenko lived in both Russia and the United States before his death in 2017. He taught English and Russian poetry at the University of Tulsa and at Queens College, CUNY.