Author and historian Aleksandr Isayevick Solzhenitsyn, considered by many to be the preeminent Russian writer of the second half of the 20th century, was born on December 11, 1918 in Kislovodsk in the northern Caucusus Mountains. In 1941, he graduated from Rostov University with a degree in physics and math. He also took correspondence courses at Moscow State University. Solzhenitsyn served in the Russian army during World War II but was arrested in 1945 for writing a letter criticizing Stalin. He spent the next decade in prisons and labor camps and, later, exile, before being allowed to return to central Russia, where he taught and wrote. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1974, he was arrested for treason and exiled following the publication of The Gulag Archipelago. He moved to Switzerland and later the U. S. where he continued to write fiction and history. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he returned to his homeland. He died due to a heart ailment on August 3, 2008.
Yevtushenko was born in a small junction on the Trans-Siberian Railroad (the subject of his 1956 long poem Zima Junction). After Stalin's death in 1953, he emerged as an important poet and spokesman for the younger generation. In 1961 Yevtushenko published "Babi Yar," which deals with the notorious wartime massacre of Jews in a ravine near Kiev. The poem made Yevtushenko internationally famous, and because it raised the spectre of domestic anti-Semitism, aroused a storm of official opposition. He also created a furor with "Stalin's Heirs" (1962), which raised the spectre of resurgent Stalinism. Over the years, however, Yevtushenko became part of the Soviet establishment. He seriously damaged his early reputation as a defender of artistic freedom by easily yielding to coercion to write works following the official line. Yet at times he took quite liberal positions at odds with the powers that be. In the Gorbachev period, he became active in political life and has continued to advocate reform, fighting for change within the Writers' Union. Like Voznesensky, Yevtushenko traveled extensively abroad. His trips inspired many topical, sometimes autobiographical works well received by Western as well as Russian readers: Though exuberant in his verbal style, the poet is quite accessible. But overall, although sometimes quite effective, his writing lacks true depth.