Masha Gessen in conversation

150 113 Time To Talk

On Tuesday the 19th May 2015, the Free Word Centre hosted the celebrated Russian-American investigative journalist, author and LGBTQI rights activist Masha Gessen in an English PEN discussion of her activism and writing, moderated by the BBC journalist and broadcaster Lucy Ash.

On this page, you can listen to the recording of this discussion, read some background information relating to Masha and the discussion and/or find out more about English PEN.

Background information

Born in Russia, Masha moved to the US at the age of 14, returning to Russia as a young woman in the early 90s. Back in Moscow, Masha worked for Russia’s longest running magazine, the popular scientific journal Vokrug Sveta [Around the World], a role she famously lost for refusing to feature Vladimir Putin in an article regarding the repopulation of Siberian cranes. As a result of media coverage of her sacking, she received a private audience with Putin, at which she refused his request for her to return to her position at the magazine, subsequently becoming appointed as the director of Radio Liberty’s Russian service.

In 2013, she then moved back to the USA out of concern at the Russian authorities new stance on homosexual adoptive parents. Since her return she has published Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot and the acclaimed The Man without a Face, which looks at Putin‘s rise and accuses him of promoting a corrupt regime. Her new book, The Tsarnaev Brothers: The Road to a Modern Tragedy, was released in June 2015 and looks at the Boston Marathon bombers, the terror act itself, it and the family’s geopolitical background and the subsequent legal proceedings against the brothers.

Masha Gessen is a journalist, author and activist who has written for Slate, the New Republic, the New York Times and other publications. She is the author of several books, including Dead Again, Two Babushkas, Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier, The Man Without a Face and Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. Her newest book, The Tsarnaev Brothers: The Road to a Modern Tragedy, was published by Scribe in June 2015.

Find out more about English PEN and Masha’s visit to the UK

English PEN is the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. It is also a founding member of London’s Free Word Centre.

English PEN campaigns to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose rights to freedom of expression are at risk. They work to remove inequalities which prevent people from enjoying and learning from literature and they match writers with marginalised groups – such as those incarcerated in UK prisons, refugee or detention centres as well as young people in disadvantaged areas – opening minds to reading and creative writing.

English PEN also facilitates and promotes English translations of foreign works which they consider to be of outstanding literary merit. They celebrate the merit and courage of these works both by introducing them to UK audiences and by awarding prizes to crown the authors’ achievements.

To find out more about English PEN, its work and writers, visit the centre’s website at


We would like to thank the Norwich Writers’ Centre, with whose help Masha was able to be in England for this discussion. To find out more about the Norwich Writers’ Centre, click here.