Maria Alexdrovna “MASHA” GESSEN is a Russian and American journalist, author, translator and activist who has been an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
Gessen has written extensively on LGBT Rights, Described as “Russia’s leading LGBT rights activist,” she has said that for many years she was “probably the only publicly out Gay person in the whole country.”
Gessen writes primarily in English but also in her native Russian. In addition to being the author of several non-fiction books, she has been a prolific contributor to such publications as The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Granta, Slate, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Magazine and the New Yorker. Gessen worked as a translator on the FX period drama The Americans.
In 2012, Gessen was appointed as director of the Russian Service for Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded broadcaster based in Prague. Shortly after her appointment was announced and a few days after Gessen met with Putin, more than forty members of Radio Liberty’s staff were fired. The station also lost its Russian broadcasting licence several weeks after Gessen took over. The degree of Gessen’s involvement in both of these events is unclear, but has caused controversy.
The Wall Street Journal described Gessen as someone who “disdains” opposition media and had replaced Putin-critical content with “softer news features in which liberty is likely to mean sexual liberation (with illustrations) rather than ‘political’ aspects of human rights.” Judy Bachrach in the journal World Affairs depicted Gessen as seeking to replace controversial news stories that reported on criticism of Putin with innocuous reports on “polar bears” and “kindergartens” and “Russian marriage and funeral traditions.”
Replying to these critics in Forbes, Mark Adomanis found it “thoroughly bizarre” that Gessen, “one of Russia‘s most outspoken and consistently anti-Putin journalists, has been dragged through the mud and been darkly portrayed as some sort of surrogate Kremlin operative.” While stating that he agreed with Gessen “on almost nothing,” Adomanis said “it is glaringly, blindingly obvious to anyone even passingly familiar with her work that she is not some sort of sycophantic Kremlin suck-up, but is instead an active and vocal member of the opposition that, according to O’Sullivan, she supposedly ‘disdains.'”
Gessen married Svetlana Generalova, a Russian citizen who was also involved in the LGBT movement in Moscow, in 2004. The wedding took place in the U.S. By the time Gessen returned to the U.S. from Russia in December 2013, she was married to Darya Oreshkina.
Gessen has three children—two sons and a daughter. Her eldest son, Vova, was born in 1997 in Russia and was adopted by Gessen from an orphanage for the children of HIV-positive women. Her daughter, Yolka, was born to Gessen in the U.S. in 2001. Her third child, a son, was born in February 2012.
Gessen latest book, out in June 2020, is called Surviving Autocracy, and was her first book since “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” winner of the National Book Award in 2017.