Author, journalist and LGBT activist, Masha Gessen (photo courtesy of Svenya Generalova)

Journalist and LGBT Activist Masha Gessen to Speak at CU

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy RiotThe University of Colorado Boulder welcomes acclaimed Russian-American author, journalist, and LGBT activist Masha Gessen for a discussion of her newly released book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot” on Thursday, April 24 at 7:00 pm on the CU Boulder Campus in Eaton Humanities, Room 150.

On February 21, 2012, five young women of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, clad in neon-colored dresses and tights, performed a “punk prayer” begging the Mother of God to “get rid of Putin” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. They were quickly arrested, tried and sentenced to prison but the incident captured international attention and footage of their performance went viral. People across the globe recognized this as not only a fierce act of political confrontation but also an inspired work of art that, in a time and place saturated with lies and deception, found a new way to speak the truth. Gessen’s riveting account tells how such a phenomenon came about. Drawing on her exclusive access to the members of Pussy Riot and their families, including her interviews with them during the time they were imprisoned in Russian penal colonies, she reconstructs the personal journeys that transformed a group of young women into artists with a shared vision, gave them the courage and imagination to express It and endowed them with the strength to endure the devastating loneliness and isolation that has been the price of their triumph.

Author, journalist and LGBT activist, Masha Gessen (photo courtesy of Svenya Generalova)
Author, journalist and LGBT activist, Masha Gessen (photo courtesy of Svenya Generalova)

Masha Gessen is a bilingual Russian-American journalist.  Born in the Soviet Union, she immigrated with her parents to the United States as a teenager at a time when many other Soviet Jewish families were leaving the USSR.  She returned to live and work in Russia in the 1990s, where she reported on Russia’s political and cultural situation from the early 1990s to the present. Following a slew of homophobic legislation adopted by Russia’s government in 2013, she re-immigrated to the US with her family later that year. Gessen is the author of “The Man Without A Face” (2012), an acclaimed and controversial biography of Vladimir Putin as well as “Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia after Communism” (1997), “Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace” (2004), “Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Overselves in the Future of the Gene” (2008), and “Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century” (2009). She has written for The New Republic, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, US News and World ReportThe New York Review of Books and The New York Times. She recently edited, together with Josh Huff-Hannon, “Gay Propaganda: Russian Love Stories” (2014), a collection of narratives by Russian gay and lesbian community in response to Russia’s anti-gay legislation. She is currently at work on a book about the Tsarvnaev brothers – the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013.

This event is free and open to the public but as space is limited, RSVPs are appreciated. Please email Words Will Break Cement and other books by Masha Gessen will be available for purchase and signing after the event through the Boulder Bookstore. Additional information can be found at

Gessen will also be presenting a brown bag lunch lecture entitled, Russia: The New Anti-Gay Capital of the World on Thursday, April 24 from Noon-1:30 pm in the University Memorial Center, Aspen Room. As one of Russia’s most outspoken LGBT activists, she will discuss how Russia launched its anti-gay campaign and how it is being used to mobilize Putin’s constituency around the notion of “traditional values” as well as provide Russia with a national identity it has lacked for 25 years. This event is also free and open to the public.

Masha Gessen’s visit is part of the annual Russian Culture Week, presented by the Russian Studies Program. This year’s series runs from April 21-25. Gessen’s visit is made possible with support from the GLBTQ Resource Center, LGBT Studies Program, the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, the Department of English, the Program in Jewish Studies, the Department of History, the Program in Journalism and Mass Communication, the International Affairs Program, the Department of Political Science, the Women’s Resource Center, Women and Gender Studies, the Dennis Small Cultural Center, the International Student and Scholar Services, Keshet Colorado and the Boulder Bookstore.  For more information, please visit

About Jamie Polliard

Assistant Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder

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