Boris Pasternak is Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1958 was awarded to Boris Pasternak "for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition".

Pasternak was named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. On 25 October, two days after hearing that he had won, Pasternak sent the following telegram to the Swedish Academy:

Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed.

However, four days later came another telegram:

Considering the meaning this award has been given in the society to which I belong, I must refuse it. Please do not take offense at my voluntary rejection.

The Swedish Academy announced:

This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.

Pasternak had declined under intense pressure from Soviet authorities. Despite turning down the award, Soviet officials soured on Pasternak, and he was threatened at the very least with expulsion. In response, Pasternak wrote to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev,

"Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work."

In addition, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, may also have spoken with Khrushchev about this, and Pasternak was not exiled or imprisoned.

Despite this, a famous Bill Mauldin cartoon at the time showed Pasternak and another prisoner the GULAG, splitting trees in the snow. In the caption, Pasternak says, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?" The cartoon won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1959.

"No one can force me to refuse the honor shown to me, a contemporary writer living in Russia and, hence, a Soviet. But I am prepared to transfer the Nobel Prize money to the Committee for the Defense of Peace.

"I know that the question of my exclusion from the Writers Union will be taken up because of social pressure. I don't expect justice from you. You can shoot me, exile me, do whatever you like. I forgive you beforehand. But don't be in a hurry. This will garner you neither happiness nor praise. And remember, in a few years you'll have to rehabilitate me all the same. It's not the first time in your experience.”

— Boris Pasternak to the Writer's Union, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature