Nina Cassian: Poet and dissident who was granted asylum in the US when the Romanian secret police found her poems
Wednesday 23 April 2014
Nina Cassian was Romanian poet and translator who was granted political asylum in the US after the Communist-era secret police found her critical poems scribbled in a friend's diary. The Securitate found her poems in 1985 in the diary of Gheorghe Ursu, who was questioned and later died after being beaten by a fellow prisoner. Cassian, then visiting the US, was given asylum.
Romanian authorities confiscated Cassian's apartment in Bucharest and her assets after she was granted asylum and her books were removed from bookshops. In 2003, the Securitate officers who ordered Ursu's beating were sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Born into a Jewish family in the Danube port of Galati in 1924, Cassian joined the Communist Youth Wing when it was outlawed by the pro-Nazi government, attracted by the ideas of equality and lack of racial prejudice. Her first collection of poems was Scale 1:1 in 1947 which was badly received by critics because it ran against the Socialist grain. She then wrote a series of books flattering to the regime, as did many Romanian writers, arguing that it was the only way they could survive artistically.
In the US she married Maurice Edwards, an author who was then the Brooklyn Philharmonic orchestra's artistic director, when they were in their 70s. As well as poetry, she wrote children's books and translated Shakespeare, Molière and Brecht, and her work was published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications. She wrote 50 books, including a volume of poems in English in 1998 called Take my word for it.
Renée Annie Cassian-Matasar (Nina Cassian), writer: born Galati, Romania 27 November 1924; twice married; died New York 14 April 2014.
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