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Vizma Belsevica, 74; Latvian Poet's Work Was Often Censored

August 09, 2005|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Vizma Belsevica, 74, one of Latvia's best-known poets and writers, died Saturday in Riga, Latvia, after a long illness. She had been using a wheelchair in recent years.

Born May 30, 1931, in Riga during a rare period of Latvian independence, Belsevica was 9 when the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states.

She published her first poem, "Awakening of the Land," in the Soviet Youth newspaper in 1947, and her first book of poetry, "The Whole Year Nothing but Spring," in 1955.

During the five decades of Soviet rule, Belsevica's work was criticized as anti-Communist and often censored. For much of the 1970s, she was a "banned person," forbidden to publish in Latvia. She was allowed to support herself by translating literary works into Latvian from English, Ukrainian, Russian and Italian. KGB agents searched her apartment twice and confiscated manuscripts and notes.

The ban only made her more popular both in her own country and abroad. Her work has been translated into more than 40 languages and published in the U.S., Britain, Russia and Scandinavia. Besides poetry, she wrote short stories, children's books and scripts for the Riga Film Studio. In the 1990s, Belsevica published a three-volume fictionalized memoir, "Bille."

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