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Cassian, Nina (1924—)

Cassian, Nina (1924—)

Rumanian poet, translator and composer whose work was scrutinized and subjected to political stricture. Born on November 27, 1924, in Galati, Rumania; educated at public schools; married Vladimir (Jany) Colin (1921–1991, a poet), in January 1943 (divorced); married Al. I. (Ali) Stefanescu (1915–1983), in 1948; no children.

Selected works:

La Scala 1/1 (On the Scale of One to One, 1947); Nica fara frica (Fearless Niki, 1952); Numaratoarea in versa (Countdown, 1983); Life Sentence (1990).

Nina Cassian was born on November 27, 1924, in Galati, Rumania. Her Jewish father was a French-German translator despite having little formal education, and the family moved often following job opportunities. He encouraged her schooling, and she enrolled at the Pompilian Institute as a teen. Expelled when Fascism took hold in Rumania, she finished her education at a high school for Jewish girls. As a reaction against Fascism, she became a Communist.

Her brief marriage to poet Vladimir Colin ended before the 1947 publication of her first verse collection, La Scala 1/1, under the name Nina Cassian. She met and married Al. I. Stefanescu as her popularity rose. When her poetry came under political scrutiny, the government deemed her too lofty and demanded that she reduce her vocabulary and figurative language. Her style thus stifled, she turned to translating, writing children's books, and composing music. In the decades after Stalin's death, as government strictures tightened and loosened, Cassian's poetry followed suit.

After her husband died in 1983, Cassian obtained a visiting professorship at New York University. Upon her arrival in the United States in 1985, she was granted a Fulbright Fellowship (she had won the fellowship several years earlier but Rumania had refused to advise her of it). Shortly into her stay, Cassian learned that a longstanding friend in Rumania, Gheorghe Ursu, had been imprisoned; his primary offense centered around his diary, which contained a copy of her unpublished satirization of President Nicolae Ceausescu and other authorities. Cassian requested and was granted U.S. political asylum; her friend was tortured to death; and Cassian's home and possessions in Bucharest were seized. In her home country, Cassian's poetry was withdrawn from publication, and the author was erased from her country's recorded history.


Smith, William Jay. "Introduction," in Life Sentence. London: Anvil Press, 1990.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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