Gessen in 2015
Maria Alexandrovna Gessen
13 January 1967
(m. 2004, divorced)
|Relatives||Keith Gessen (brother)|
Masha Gessen (born Maria Alexandrovna Gessen (Russian: Мари́я Алекса́ндровна Ге́ссен, IPA: [maˈrʲijə ɐlʲɪkˈsandrəvnəˈɡʲesən]) 13 January 1967) is a Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist who has been an outspoken critic of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Gessen is nonbinary and trans and uses they/them pronouns. Gessen has written extensively on LGBT rights. Described as "Russia's leading LGBT rights activist," they have said that for many years they were "probably the only publicly out gay person in the whole country." They now live in New York with their wife and children.
Gessen writes primarily in English but also in their native Russian. In addition to being the author of several non-fiction books, they have been a prolific contributor to such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker, and U.S. News & World Report. Since 2017, they have been a staff writer for The New Yorker.
Early life and education
Gessen was born into a Jewish family in Moscow to Alexander and Yelena Gessen. Their paternal grandmother Ester Goldberg, the daughter of a socialist mother and a Zionist father, was born in Białystok, Poland, in 1923 and emigrated to Moscow in 1940. Ester's father Jakub Goldberg was murdered in 1943, either in the Białystok Ghetto or a concentration camp. Ruzya Solodovnik, Gessen's maternal grandmother, was a Russian-born intellectual who worked as a censor for the Stalinist government until she was fired during an antisemitic purge. Gessen's maternal grandfather Samuil was a committed Bolshevik who died during World War II, leaving Ruzya to raise Yelena alone.
In 1981, when Gessen was a teenager, they moved with their family via the US Refugee Resettlement Program to the United States. As an adult in 1991, they moved to Moscow, where they worked as a journalist. Gessen holds both Russian and US citizenship. Their brothers are Keith, Daniel and Philip Gessen.
Activism and journalism
In an extensive October 2008 profile of Vladimir Putin for Vanity Fair, Gessen reported that the young Putin had been "an aspiring thug" and that "the backward evolution of Russia began" within days of his inauguration in 2000.
They contributed several dozen commentaries on Russia to The New York Times blog "Latitude" between November 2011 and December 2013. Among their subjects were the banning of so-called "homosexual propaganda" and other related laws; the harassment and beating of journalists, and the depreciation in value of the ruble.
In March 2013, politician Vitaly Milonov promoted the Russian law against foreign adoption of Russian children by saying: "The Americans want to adopt Russian children and bring them up in perverted families like Masha Gessen's."
Dismissal from Vokrug Sveta
Gessen was dismissed from their position as the chief editor of Russia's oldest magazine, Vokrug sveta, a popular-science journal, in September 2012 after they refused to send a reporter to cover a Russian Geographical Society event about nature conservation featuring President Putin because they considered it political exploitation of environmental concerns. After they tweeted about their firing, Putin phoned them and claimed he was serious about his "nature conservation efforts." At his invitation, they met him and their former publisher at the Kremlin, and was offered their job back. They rejected the offer.
In September 2012, Gessen was appointed as director of the Russian Service for Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded broadcaster based in Prague. Shortly after their appointment was announced and a few days after Gessen met with Putin, more than 40 members of Radio Liberty's staff were fired. The station also lost its Russian broadcasting licence several weeks after Gessen took over. The degree of Gessen's involvement in both of these events is unclear, but has caused controversy.
Return to the U.S.
In December 2013, they moved to New York because Russian authorities had begun to talk about taking children away from gay parents. In March, "the St Petersburg legislator [Milonov] who had become a spokesman for the law [against 'homosexual propaganda' towards children] started mentioning me and my 'perverted family' in his interviews," and Gessen contacted an adoption lawyer asking "whether I had reason to worry that social services would go after my family and attempt to remove my oldest son, whom I adopted in 2000." The lawyer told Gessen "to instruct my son to run if he is approached by strangers and concluding: 'The answer to your question is at the airport.'" In June 2013, Gessen was beaten up outside of the Parliament; they said of the incident that "I realised that in all my interactions, including professional ones, I no longer felt I was perceived as a journalist first: I am now a person with a pink triangle." They stated that "a court would easily decide to annul Vova's adoption, and I wouldn't even know it." Given this potential threat to their family, Gessen "felt like no risk was small enough to be acceptable," they later told the CBC Radio. "So we just had to get out."
In a January 2014 interview with ABC News, Gessen said that the Russian gay propaganda law had "led to a huge increase in antigay violence, including murders. It's led to attacks on gay and lesbian clubs and film festivals...and because these laws are passed supposedly to protect children, the people who are most targeted or have the most to fear are LGBT parents."
As of 2017[update], Gessen serves as a visiting professor at Amherst College. They were named the John J. McCloy '16 Professor of American Institutions and International Diplomacy for the 2017–18 and 2018–19 academic years. In October 2017, they published their 10th book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.
Gessen married Svetlana Generalova, a Russian citizen who was also involved in the LGBT movement in Moscow, in 2004. The wedding took place in the U.S. By the time Gessen returned to the U.S. from Russia in December 2013, they were married to Darya Oreshkina.
Gessen has three children—two sons and a daughter. Their eldest son, Vova, was born in 1997 in Russia and was adopted by Gessen from an orphanage in Kaliningrad for the children of HIV-positive women. Their daughter, Yolka, was born to Gessen in the U.S. in 2001. Their third child, a son, was born in February 2012.
- 2005: National Jewish Book Award for Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace
- 2012: Stora Journalistpriset (Swedish Grand Prize for Journalism), Guest of Honor
- 2013: Liberty Media Corporation, Media for Liberty award for their article "The Wrath of Putin," published in the April 2012 edition of Vanity Fair
- 2015: University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal, 24th recipient
- 2017: National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
- 2018: Hitchens Prize 
Summaries of select works
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
|Presentation by Gessen on The Man Without a Face, 8 March 2012, C-SPAN|
The New York Review of Books described the book as written in "beautifully clear and eloquent English," and stated that it was "at heart a description of th[e] secret police milieu" from which Putin originated and was "also very good at evoking…the culture and atmosphere within which [Putin] was raised, and the values he came to espouse." The Guardian called the book "luminous"; the Telegraph called it "courageous".
Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot
|Presentation by Gessen on Words Will Break Cement, 12 March 2014, C-SPAN|
A.D. Miller wrote in the Telegraph that "even readers who do not share Gessen's esteem for Pussy Riot as artists will be convinced of their courage." Miller described Gessen as "the right person to tell this story" and said their journalistic approach was "scrupulous and sensitive". Booklist described the book as "prickly, frank, precise, and sharply witty." The New York Times called it "urgent" and "damning." The Washington Post called the book an "excellent" portrait of Pussy Riot and said that "Gessen gives a particularly brilliant account of their trials". The Los Angeles Times said that Gessen was "Not just a keen observer of these events" but "also an impassioned partisan."
The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy
|Presentation by Gessen on The Brothers, 29 April 2015, C-SPAN|
- Gessen, Masha (1994). The rights of lesbians and gay men in the Russian Federation : an International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission report = Права гомосексуалов и лесбиянок в Российской Федерации : отчет Международной Комиссии по правам человека для гомосексуалов и лесбиянок. Foreword by Larisa I. Bogoraz; introduction by Julie Dorf. San Francisco: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
- Gessen, Masha (translated by); Lipovskaya, Olga (preface by); Gorlanova, Nina; Volodina, Galina; Paley, Marina; Polianskaya, Irina; Tarasova, Yelena; Nabatnikova, Tatiana; Shulga, Natalia; Narbikova, Valeria; Sadur, Nina (1995). Gessen, Masha (ed.). Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women. Pittsburgh, PA: Cleis Press. ISBN 978-1-57344-006-6. OCLC 31518015.
- Gessen, Masha (1997). Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism. London: Verso. ISBN 978-1-85984-147-1. OCLC 36201042.
- Gessen, Masha (2004). Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace. New York: Dial Press Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-385-33605-5. OCLC 54529515. - also known in the UK as Two Babushkas: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace
- Gessen, Masha (2008). Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene. Orlando: Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101362-3. OCLC 171151566. - a New York Times Notable Book of the year
- Gessen, Masha (2009). Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101406-4. OCLC 759834681. - about Grigori Perelman
- Gessen, Masha (2012). The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-59448-842-9. OCLC 859327104. - Short-listed for Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2013, Long-listed for Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2012
- Gessen, Masha (2014). Words Will Break Cement The Passion of Pussy Riot. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-59463-219-8. OCLC 880926302.
- Kasparov, Garry (foreword by) (2014). Gessen, Masha; Huff-Hannon, Joseph (eds.). Пропаганда гомосексуализма в России : истории любви / Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories (in Russian and English). New York: OR Books. ISBN 978-1-939293-35-0. OCLC 907537609.
- Gessen, Masha (2015). Brothers: The Road to An American Tragedy. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1-59463-264-8. OCLC 905658714.
- Gessen, Masha (2016). Where the Jews Aren't: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia's Autonomous Region. New York: Nextbook/Schocken. ISBN 978-0-80524-246-1. OCLC 959936125.
- Gessen, Masha (3 October 2017). The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-1594634536. - 2017 National Book Award for nonfiction
- Gessen, Masha (20 March 2018). Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia. New York: Columbia Global Reports. ISBN 978-0997722963.
- Gessen, Masha (2 June 2020). Surviving Autocracy. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-0593188934.
- Gessen, Masha (9 January 2014). "A Kind of Racism We're Not Used To". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- Thomas, June (21 April 2016). "The Art of the Perfect Subtitle". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
- Gessen, Masha (10 November 2016). "Autocracy: Rules for Survival". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
- Gessen, Masha [@mashagessen] (23 June 2020). "I avoided the topic of pronouns for a while" (Tweet). Retrieved 24 June 2020 – via Twitter.
- "Маша Гессен: о Трампе, тестостероне и терроре". Youtube. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
- Gessen, Masha. "The Supreme Court Considers L.G.B.T. Rights, but Can't Stop Talking About Bathrooms". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
- UNC. "Masha Gessen: "The Rise of Radical 'Family Values' in Russia". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Hayes, Chris. "Russian Journalist Gives a Snapshot of Gay Life in Russia Masha Gessen w Chris Hayes". MSNBC. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "Masha and Keith Gessen on Writing About Russia". The New Yorker. 17 March 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
- Pollitt, Katha (6 March 2005). "'Ester and Ruzya': Grandmothers of Invention". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
- Joanna Smith Rakoff. Talking with Masha Gessen. Newsday, 2 January 2005.
- Smith Rakoff, Joanna. "Talking with Masha Gessen, Newsday, 14 June 2017.
- "Биография Мария Гессен". www.peoples.ru.
- Gessen, Masha (1 October 2008). "Dead Soul". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 14 April 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
- NYT. "Powerlessness and Pretense". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
- Gessen, Masha. "When Putin Declared War on Gay Families, It Was Time for Mine to Leave Russia". Slate. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Amos, Howard (10 September 2012). "Putin to pilot hang-glider at head of endangered Siberian crane migration". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- Gessen, Masha (10 September 2012). "Flying Putin, Fired Editor". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- Skavlan, Fredrik. "American/Jewish/Russian journalist Masha Gessen wrote negative book about President Putin". Skavlan. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- Aschberg, Robert. "Stora Journalistpriset 2012: Masha Gessen". Stora Journalistpriset 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "Radio Liberty Hires Gessen". The Moscow Times. 17 September 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- Cohen, Ariel; Helle Dale (13 December 2012). "How to Save Radio Liberty". The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- Ghomeshi, Jian. "World Pride: Masha Gessen on defiance and exile". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
- O'Brien, Lara. "Masha Gessen on the State of Vladimir Putin's Russia". CBC Radio. Retrieved 11 May 2014.
- ABC. "Russian Author and Activist Masha Gessen Answers 5 Questions". ABC News. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
- Gessen, Masha. "Banking While Russian". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
- "Meet the Visitors – Amherst College". Retrieved 27 November 2017.[permanent dead link]
- "Семья Генераловых — Персоны". Эхо Москвы.
- Bethune, Brian. "Russian dissident Masha Gessen on Pussy Riot, Putin and Sochi". Maclean's. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Margolin, Emma; Johnny Simon. "Faces of Russia's LGBT community". Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Signorile, Michelangelo (6 September 2013). "Russian Gay Activist's Plea: 'Get Us the Hell Out of Here'". HuffPost. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
- Groskop, Viv (4 July 2008). "Masha Gessen talks about blood, babies and the burden of knowing too much". The Guardian.
- "National Jewish Book Award | Book awards | LibraryThing". www.librarything.com. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
- "About - Stora Journalistpriset". www.storajournalistpriset.se.
- Business Wire. "2013 Media for Liberty Award Honors Vanity Fair's "The Wrath of Putin" by Masha Gessen". Daily Finance.
- Committee, Wallenberg. "Masha Gessen to Receive Wallenberg Medal – Wallenberg Legacy, University of Michigan".
- Kellogg, Carolyn (15 November 2017). "Masha Gessen, Jesmyn Ward, Robin Benway and Frank Bidart win National Book Awards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
- "2018 Prize - Masha Gessen". The Dennis & Victoria Ross Foundation.
- Vuolo, Mike. "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot". Slate. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Applebaum, Anne. "Vladimir's Tale". New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Harding, Luke. "The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Miller, A D. "The Man Without a Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen: review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Miller, A D. "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, by Masha Gessen, review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Booklist review
- Nazaryan, Alexander. "Punk, Skirts, Balaclavas: A Russian Revolution". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Applebaum, Anne. "Book review: 'Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot' by Masha Gessen". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Marcus, Sara. "'Words Will Break Cement' documents the Pussy Riot revolution". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Bosman, Julie. "First Book Is Planned on the Tsarnaev Brothers". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Rounding, Virginia (9 July 2004). "Against all odds". The Guardian.
- "2017 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
- "Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia". Columbia Global Reports. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
- "Surviving Autocracy". Riverhead Books. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
- Masha Gessen on Twitter
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Masha Gessen on IMDb
- Bloomsbury Books author pages
- "The Wrath of Putin" re: Russian prime minister's relationship with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vanity Fair, April 2012.
- "A Call from the Kremlin" re: face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, The New York Times, September 2012.
- "Putin Biography Chronicles Rise Of A 'Street Thug'", interview with Dave Davies on Fresh Air, 1 March 2012.
- Review of Blood Matters, The Independent
- Review of "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot"