Poet. She is considered by many to be the greatest woman poet in Russian Literature. Born Anna Gorenko into an upper-class family in Odessa, Ukraine, she spent most of her life in Saint Petersburg, the city with which she is most closely identified. Precocious in her studies, she excelled in languages and began writing verse at age 11. She took the pseudonym Akhmatova after her father told her not to shame the family name by becoming "a decadent poetess." In 1910 she married poet Nikolai Gumilyov, the founder of the Acmeist school. He encouraged her to write and greatly influenced her style, but their relationship was stormy and marked by frequent separations that culminated in their divorce in 1918. Akhmatova was initially famed more for her beauty than for her literary efforts. During her honeymoon in Paris, France she posed nude for painter Amedeo Modigliani, and was the subject of many portraits. Author Boris Pasternak fell madly in love with her and proposed many times, even though he was married; she later served as one of the models for the character 'Lara' in Pasternak's novel "Doctor Zhivago." Akhmatova's first book of poetry, "Evening" (1912), established her reputation, and her second, "Rosary" (1914), spread her fame throughout Russia and Europe. The collections "The White Flock" (1917), "Plaintain" (1921), and "Anno Domini" (1922) followed. Her abstinence from social and political themes made her a target for the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution. When her ex-husband Gumilyov was shot for counter-revolutionary activities in 1921, she was deemed guilty by association and from 1923 to 1940 her work was under an "unofficial" ban by the Soviet government. This was the first of many injustices visited upon her, especially after dictator Josef Stalin came to power in 1928. Despite her cruel treatment, Akhmatova never considered leaving her homeland. The communists took advantage of her love of country (and vast underground following) during World War II, when they used her for propaganda purposes. At the beginning of the Siege of Leningrad in September 1941, she was evacuated to safety in Tashkent, where the fiery patriotic verses she wrote are among the most stirring in any language and brought her to world attention. But in 1946, with the war and expedient fraternization with the West over, the Kremlin resumed its attacks on the poet with even greater viciousness. Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's cultural commissar, denounced Akhmatova as "half whore, half nun," she was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers (to which she had only recently been admitted), and her books were again banned. Additionally, her son, art historian Lev Gumilyov, and her third husband, critic Nikolai Punin, were arrested. Punin would die in a Siberian labor camp and Gumilyov would not be freed until 1956. Bereaved, she secretly began writing the two works that are considered masterpieces of her later years: "Requiem," a memorial in verse to Stalin's millions of victims, and "Poem Without a Hero," a summation of her life and achievement. Excerpts of these long poems were brought to light after Stalin's death, but neither was published in its entirety in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s. She spent her last years in relative peace in a cottage at Komarovo, near Saint Petersburg. Revered among Russia's artists and intellectuals, she was awarded Italy's Etna-Taormina Prize in 1964 and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1965. Her journeys to accept these honors (she traveled by train because she was too ill to fly) were her first trips abroad in over 50 years. Her Collected Poems were published in 1990.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards