Masha Gessen

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Writing About Jews and Fighting for Gay Rights

When Masha Gessen, 49, fled Russia as a teenage refusenik to come to America, she probably never imagined that she would someday become one of the Kremlin’s primary antagonists. But three decades on, she has emerged as one of the loudest and most eloquent critics of autocracy, Vladimir Putin and his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Throughout her prolific career, she’s written articles and books on a broad range of subjects, from the unflattering 2012 biography “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin” to an account of the Pussy Riot trial. Her most recent book, “Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan,” published earlier this year, chronicles Soviet efforts to set up an autonomous Jewish province in Siberia in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Gessen — who holds U.S. and Russian citizenship — returned to Russia, where she worked as a journalist and was a gay rights activist. Her critical writing about Putin and his regime, published in such American media outlets as Vanity Fair and The New York Times, made her a notable opponent of the Kremlin. In 2012, she was fired from her job at the helm of the prestigious magazine Vokrug Sveta after refusing to cover a Putin-sponsored event on environmental conservation.

Gessen left Russia once again the following year, after the country’s legislators passed an anti-gay law that could have resulted in her and her partner losing custody of their children to the state. She continues her work as a dissenting journalist, returning to Russia regularly on reporting assignments and covering such issues as the impact of anti-gay laws.

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