Knuts Skujenieks collection
Knuts Skujenieks (b. 1936) is a Latvian poet, a dissident who was sentenced in 1962 to seven years in prison for anti-Soviet activities. The collection holds manuscripts from all his creative life, but the most powerful are the manuscripts he created during his imprisonment: poems and other literary texts, correspondence with his wife and colleagues, and many other documents that reflect the development of his poetic language and political consciousness.
Rīga Mūkusalas iela, Latvia 1048
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Name of collection
- Skujenieks, Knuts, 1936 - Personal collection of manuscripts, RX0,A392
Provenance and cultural activities
The collection holds manuscripts of poetry and literary criticism, correspondence with Latvian and foreign writers, biographical material, and photographs and personal documents donated in 2009-2014 to the Aleksejs Apinis Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room at the National Library of Latvia, by the poet, translator and publicist Knuts Skujenieks. The documents cover all his creative life, but the manuscripts and documents from the time of his imprisonment in a camp in Mordovia for political prisoners in 1962-1969 are of particular interest. He was arrested and sentenced to seven years for anti-Soviet activities, although even under Soviet law at the time his offences against the system were trifling. His arrest was probably intended as a warning by the authorities to young people who sought change and were not content with the neo-Stalinist tendencies in cultural life after the 1959 purge of Latvian national-communists. One reason for his arrest was that in anticipation of a congress of the Union of Writers of Latvia that was to be convened in 1962, young writers talked of the necessity to get rid of the conservative leadership of the Union (this happened in December 1965). Attempts to reopen his file did not succeed. Since Skujenieks consistently refused to plead guilty, in 1962 he was sentenced and had to serve his full term. During his detention from 1963 to 1969, he wrote several hundred poems, and made many translations of poetry and prose from different languages, which he studied intensively. He made friends with his fellow inmates, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Russians, such as Viktoras Petkus, July Daniel, and many others. He developed his own poetic language, and one of the main themes of his poetry was the protest against totalitarianism and oppression, by maintaining inner freedom in conditions when physical freedom has been lost. Skujenieks' detention was made easier by appeals by Amnesty International, by information about his imprisonment being broadcast by Western radio stations, and by solidarity between writers of his generation (Imants Auziņš, Vizma Belševica, Māris Čaklais, etc). Thanks to their support, the poetry section of the Union of Writers of Latvia twice (in 1965 and 1968) discussed and praised poems he wrote in Mordovia. His poetry was known and read by many people in handwritten or typewritten versions when he was in prison. The collection holds Skujenieks' appeal to his colleagues, as well as a copy of an excerpt from the protocol of the poetry section in 1965, which was sent to Skujenieks and the authorities of the prison camp. When he returned to Latvia, he was recognised as a leading contemporary poet, but the publication in book form of his poetry from his Mordovia period was held up by systematically placed obstacles. His poems written in prison were only published for the first time in the book Sēkla sniegā (Seed in Snow) in 1990. His poetry written after his time in prison was published in the 1970s, occasionally in periodicals, and in 1979 in the book Lirika un balsis (Lyrics and Voices), though mixed with translations from foreign languages. Translation became his main occupation, because the authorities obstructed his attempts to find work at the university or the Academy of Sciences. The range of his translations of poetry and folklore was very wide: from Ukrainian, Polish, Greek, Spanish, Serbian and many other languages. In many cases, he chose the poetry of victims of political persecution (Federico Garcia Lorca, Yannis Ritsos). He urged his younger colleagues to learn foreign languages and translate poetry in order to broaden the horizons of Latvian poetry. Skujenieks also had a deep interest in folklore, and in the 1970s he became one of pioneers of the modern approach to Latvian folklore. With the beginning of the national independence movement, his stance with regard to the Soviet regime and his contribution to Latvian literature were widely recognised. It became possible for him to travel abroad and to correspond more with his colleagues all over the world, and the collection of manuscripts and photographs reflects these developments. The collection is kept at the National Library of Latvia as one entity.
Description of content
The collection consists of 352 items, including manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and official documents, which reflect the creative activities of Knuts Skujenieks from the 1960s to the 2000s, including manuscripts and documents from the time of his detention in camps for political prisoners in Mordovia in 1962-1969. They reflect his formation as a poet with a distinct civic consciousness and with his own particular poetic language, his broad cultural interests, and his protest against totalitarianism and all kinds of oppression. The collection is also important because it shows the efforts by his colleagues to provide moral and intellectual support, privately as well as at an official level. The material from the 1970s and 1980s reflects the development of Skujenieks' literary criticism, translation work and interest in folklore, and his contacts with colleagues all over the Soviet Union and in other countries, although he was not allowed to travel abroad. It was part of a process of Latvian culture to break out from the narrow confines the Soviet authorities and ideologists tried to impose on it, and to be part of the global cultural process.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 100-499
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
- Mintaurs, Mārtiņš
Geographical scope of recent operation
- Skujenieks, Knuts
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
- Skujenieks, Knuts
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
- Knuts Skujenieks: bibliogrāfija. Rīga: Latvijas Nacionālā Bibliotēka. Letonikas un Baltijas centrs, 2017.
Author(s) of this page
- Bleiere, Daina
Skujenieks, Knuts. 2002-2008. Raksti. I-VIII sēj. Sastādītāja un komentāru autore Inta Čaklā. Rīga: Nordik;
Skujenieks, Knuts. 2016. Seed in Snow. Introduction and English translation by Bitite Vinklers. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd.
Skujenieks, Knuts. 2018. All I Have is Words. Translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis. Toronto, Buffalo, Lancaster (U.K.): Guernica World Editions.
Čaklā, Inta, sastādītāja. 2012. Kro-Kro: Knuta un Intas Skujenieku vēstules. 1963-1969. Rīga: Laika Grāmata.
Bitite Vinklers. Introduction. In: Seed in Snow. Poems by Knuts Skujenieks. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2016, p. 9
Skujenieks, Knuts, interview by Bleiere, Daina , July 24, 2017, January 24, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Mintaurs, Mārtiņš, interview by Bleiere, Daina , January 03, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection