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 Varlam Shalamov

Born:   June 18, 1907
Deceased:   January 17, 1982

prose writer, essayist and poet, victim of Stalinist reprisals


Varlam Shalamov was the outstanding prose writer and poet of the Stalinist epoch who survived the hell of Gulag camps. His prose became accessible to the general reader only in the 1980s, after the author’s death. He became especially known as the author of Kolyma Tales about living in prison camps.

Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov was born into the family of a priest in Vologda in 1907. As a youth he was fond of the "Narodnaya Volya" ("People's Freedom") ideas and passionately read books, each and all, from Duma to Kant. In 1924 he left Vologda for Moscow and two years later entered the Soviet Law Faculty of the Moscow State University.

On the 19th of February 1929 Shalamov was arrested for the distribution of Lenin’s will - "Letters to Congress" (which revealed Lenin’s precautions concerning Joseph Stalin) - and sentenced to 3 years of camp imprisonment, which he served in the Northern Urals, on River Vishera. In 1932 Shalamov returned to Moscow and worked in local magazines, writing articles, sketches, and feuilletons. The journal “Oktyabr” ( 1, 1936) published his short story The Three Deaths of Doctor Austino.

On the night of January, 1st, 1937 Shalamov was arrested again – this time “as a preventive measure”- and exiled to Kolyma camps to work in gold mines. Another term followed in 1943 - the writer dared to call Ivan Bunin a Russian classic – it was considered as anti-Soviet propaganda and Shalamov was sentenced to 10 years in a prison camp. In 1951, however, he was released from the camp, but could not come back on "the continent". In November, 1953 Shalamov visited Moscow just for two days to see his wife and daughter, and also meet Pasternak, but he was prohibited to stay live in Moscow. So he left for Kalinin Oblast, where he worked as a foreman at peateries, and a material man, and at the same time wrote his would-be famous Kolyma Tales.

In July 1956 Shalamov was rehabilitated, came back to Moscow, and worked in "Moscow" journal as a freelance correspondent. In 1957 his verses were published in the journal “Znamya”. The year 1961 saw the publication of his first book of poetry Ognivo that was followed by Shelest listyev (Rustle of Leaves) in 1964 and Dorogi i sudby (Roads and Fates) in 1967. His short stories, however, were not accepted by editors, but the fact did not prevent him from intense writing.

Varlam Shalamov completed his stories Fourth Vologda in 1971, Vishera and Feodor Raskolnikov in 1973, the collection of short stories Glove, and a number of verses, articles and essays.

In 1979 the Literary Foundation placed Shalamov to a nursing home because of his poor health condition. He did not live to see his prose published. It saw the light only in 1987, after his death. Varlam Tikhonovich died in the asylum on the 17th of January 1982.

Monument to Varlam Shalamov erected over his gravestone was created by his friend Fedot Suchkov, who had also gone through Stalinist camps.

In 1991 there was opened an exposition in Shalamov’s House in Vologda, where he was born and grew up and where the Vologda Regional Art Gallery is located now. Every year Shalamov’s House hosts commemoration meetings on the writer’s birthdays and death anniversaries, and International Shalamov Conferences were held in various years.

Literary and Local History Museum was opened in 1992 in Tomtor Settlement (Sakha Republic (Yakutia)), where Shalamov served his last two years (1952—1953) in Kolyma.

Shalamov is also a part of the exposition in the Museum of Political Repressions (in Yagodnoye Settlement of the Magadan Region) founded by the local historian Ivan Panikarov in 1994.

In 2005 Varlam Shalamov Museum Room was founded in Debin Settlement, where the Central Hospital of Gulag Prisoners had been located and where Shalamov had worked in 1946-1951.

In 2007 Varlam Shalamov Memorial was opened in Krasnovishersk, the town that grew up on the place of Vishera Prison Camp, where the writer had served his first term.

Tags: Russian literature Russian writers Varlam Shalamov   

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