Wanderer and Writer

28 March, marks the birthday of Russian literary figure, Maxim Gorky, in 1868 in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow.

Upon the death of his father, Gorky was put in the care of his grandfather, who did not provide him with a pleasant childhood. Gorky began wandering about the Volga region and after having been introduced to books, set out for the city of Kazan where he hoped to enroll as a student, something that was prevented by his own poverty. He then began his life as a laborer in many different capacities, including in a bakery, as a night watchman, and as a dishwasher. These experiences often became the basis for many of his short stories as well as his own reminiscences and autobiographical writings. One critic responded to his writings saying that Gorky had burst upon the scene as “an emissary from the anonymous Russian masses.”

A man of strong social conscience, he frequently clashed with authority.

Gorky visited the USA in 1906 and upon hearing of the arrest of the Western Federation of Miners activist “Big Bill” Haywood in the State of Idaho; he promptly fired off a telegram that read: ‘Courage! The day of justice and delivery for the oppressed of all the world is at hand.’

In 1931, Gorky read his fairy tale “A Girl and Death” to Joseph Stalin (with whom he is pictured above), Kliment Voroshilov and Vyacheslav Molotov, an event that was later depicted by Viktor Govorov in his painting. Stalin left his autograph on the last page of this work by Gorky, inscribing, “This piece is stronger than Goethe’s Faust. Love defeats death”.

Gorky died in 1936, his image, represented in statues, busts, mosaics and named places, are frequently found throughout Russia. His books can be found in the Memorial Library, which members of University Staff can access via their Wisc ID card.