Czeslaw Milosz

I was first introduced to the writings of Milosz when teaching multicultural literature in Lithuania.

My Lithuanian co-teacher at the local school where she taught, Virginja Kanapinskiene, explained to me the significance of the writings of Czesław Milosz for the many generation of students in our classroom whose own parents had lived under Communism, and whose grandparents had lived under Stalinism. As far back as 1953, when Milosz had first released his anti-Stalinist classic book, ‘The Captive Mind’, generations of Lithuanians had been secretly reading Milosz, hiding his books under their mattresses or beneath their floorboards. The parents and grandparents of the children in our classroom had been terrified of retribution if caught reading the books of Czesław Milosz.

Milosz grew up in rural Lithuania and then attended university in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

His anti-Stalinist writing put him at great personal risk, and, as was also the case with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Czesław Milosz opted to defect to the West and ended up teaching for almost forty years, as professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California at Berkeley.

My co-teacher Virginja expressed the joy and bittersweet freedom of being able to openly read and discuss Milosz’s writings in the classroom, as of September, 1991, when Lithuania finally became fully independent from Russia, as signified by Lithuania’s admittance into the United Nations.

— Karim