Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Biography

Author, Activist, Educator (1918–2008)
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist and historian who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born on December 11, 1918, in Kislovodsk, Russia. He fought in World War II, but was arrested for criticizing Joseph Stalin and spent 11 years in labor camps and exile. His books, including The Gulag Archipelago, recount his experiences. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and the Russian State Prize in 2007. He died in 2008.


Early Years

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, Russia, on December 11, 1918. His father had studied at Moscow University, but left when World War I broke out and died four years later, in the summer of 1918, leaving Solzhenitsyn's upbringing to his mother. As a child, Solzhenitsyn wanted to be a writer, and by the 1930s he was sending his writings out for publication, to no avail.

Solzhenitsyn attended the University of Rostov-na-Donu and graduated from the department of mathematics and physics, but he soon went on to fight in World War II. His fate would change in 1945, when he was arrested for letters he had written to a school friend that were critical of Joseph Stalin. Subsequent to his arrest, Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in prisons and labor camps and three years in exile.

The Published Author

In 1956, Solzhenitsyn was allowed to settle in central Russia, where he taught mathematics and began writing in earnest. By the early 1960s, with government control being loosened in Russia, Solzhenitsyn saw his short novel Odin den iz zhizni Ivana Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) published in Novy Mir (New World), a leading literary journal. Based on Solzhenitsyn's own experiences, Ivan Denisovich described a day in the life of a Stalin-era inmate, and its authenticity struck a chord with readers, especially since it was the first such work to appear in post-Stalin Russia.

In 1964, however, the political tide soon turned against Solzhenitsyn when Nikita Khrushchev fell from power in and restrictions on cultural activities were reinstated. Solzhenitsyn lost government-sanctioned publishing privileges and soon had to resort to publishing through underground means. Despite the oppressive nature of his homeland during this time, Solzhenitsyn found success internationally, as publishers abroad clambered to release his work.

V kruge pervom (The First Circle) appeared in 1968, and Rakovy korpus (Cancer Ward) followed later that year. These works secured Solzhenitsyn the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature, but he did not go to Stockholm for the ceremony because he was afraid he would not be readmitted to the Soviet Union when he returned.

In 1973, Arkhipelag Gulag (The Gulag Archipelago), a literary-historical record of the Soviet prison/labor camp system that became a multi-tentacled monster under Stalin,, started to appear in installments in Paris and the KGB has seized the manuscript in the Soviet Union.

Second Exile and Later Years

Upon the publication of Arkhipelag Gulag, Solzhenitsyn was charged with treason and exiled from the Soviet Union. He eventually traveled to the United States and settled in the secluded environs of Vermont, where he continued to write.

In 1989, Novy Mir published the first governmentally approved excerpts from Arkhipelag Gulag. Solzhenitsyn's Soviet citizenship was restored a year later, and he returned to Russia four years after that.

In 1998, his autobiography, Ugodilo zernyshko promezh dvukh zhernovov: ocherki izgnaniia (The Little Grain Managed to Land Between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile), began appearing in installments. Solzhenitsyn died five years after the final installment was published, on August 3, 2008, in Troitse-Lykovo (near Moscow), Russia.

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