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 Naum Korzhavin

Born:   14 October 1925

Poet Naum Korzhavin, a Big Book Author


The outstanding poet Naum Korzhavin is the only finalist of the recent Big Book National Literary Award-2006 to get into the short-list with a book of memoirs. The poet, emigrant and dissident creates a vivid detailed picture of his life and his country in his prose work under the expressive title In Temptations of the Bloody Epoch.

Korzhavin (real surname is Mandel) Naum Moiseyevich was born on October 14, 1925 into a Jewish family living in Kiev. At an early age he took a great interest in poetry. The non-conformism of the poet revealed itself in youth already: Korzhavin as a senior pupil was expelled from school for his conflict with the head master. Then the war broke out and made Naum along with many other people leave the home city. However, Korzhavin was not enrolled in the army because of his poor eyesight.

Naum Korzhavin In 1945 Naum Korzhavin entered the Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. Wide scope seemed to be opening for the young poet, but his arrest in 1947 turned everything upside down. As a very sincere and pure youth Naum could not help seeing the falseness and injustice of the Soviet post-war life and could not help writing about it in his poems. This resulted in eight months of confinement at Lubyanka prison in Moscow, five years of exile in a Siberian village, and two years in Karaganda where he got the profession of a mine foreman upon graduating from the College of Mines.

The general amnesty (that followed Stalins death) in 1954 gave him the opportunity to return to Moscow and the rehabilitation in 1956 allowed his further studies in the Literature Institute which he graduated from in 1959. At that time he was making his living as a translator. Occasionally he managed to publish some of his poems in journals. The first remarkable set of Korzhavins works to attract readers attention appeared in Tarusskie Stranitsy in 1961. The year 1963 saw the publication of his selected poems Gody (Years).

Naum Korzhavin Korzhavin took a shot at drama and not without success. In 1967 his play Once in 1920 was staged at Stanislavsky Theatre. In 1966-67 the poet and playwright took part in the movement of progressive intelligentsia to defend the prisoners of conscience Daniel and Sinyavsky, and later Galansky and Ginsbourg. This incurred on Korzhavin the outcome quite natural for the poet in the USSR: his works were banned from publication. In 1973 Korzhavin submitted an application for leaving the country, the reason being the lack of air to live, as he put it. Korzhavin came to America and settled in Boston where he became a member of the editorial board of The Continent, gave lectures at universities and wrote poems, articles and essays. Two books of his poetry Vremena (Times) (1976) and Spletenia (Interlacements) (1981) were published in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In the mean time Korzhavins creations were spreading around his homeland as Samizdat (clandestine copying, by handwriting or typing, of underground literature in the USSR) copies.

Book cover In 1989 the emigrant poet was invited by Boulat Okudjava to Russia where he was cordially welcomed by Muscovites and successfully performed for various audiences.

Since 1990 publications of Korzhavins works have been renewed in Russia. In 1991-1992 his two books of poetry Pismo v Moskkvu (A letter to Moscow) and Vremya Dano (Time has been given) were published in Moscow.

Naum Korzhavin Naum Korzhavin is one of the heroes of the documentary film Oni vybiraly svobodu (They chose freedom) (2005) about the history of the dissident movement in the USSR.

Korzhavin has won the special prize of the Big Book National Award for his contribution into literature. The winner refers to contesting as follows: I do not compete with anybody. I am simply not interested in the authors whose poems I do not like, and it would be absurd to rival those whose works I love I want them to be loved and understood by others as well. It is not so important who of the poets is better and who is worse. What is essential is a poets feeling for harmony, his/her relations with it.



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