The Institute was created on 17 September 1932 by a decree of the Presidium of Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union (CEC USSR) titled “On the Arrangements in Honor of 40 Years of Maksim Gorky’s Literary Work”.

At first it was known as the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute (not to be confused with the existing Maxim Gorky Institute of Literature and Creative Writing that was founded on the basis of Moscow Workers Evening University of Literature) and it was part of the system of scientific and educational institutions under the Scientific Committee of CEC USSR. On 27 August 1934 it was renamed as the Maxim Gorky Institute of Literature by a decree of the Presidium of CEC USSR. The same decree appointed the first Director of the Institute: Lev Borisovich Kamenev (1883‒1936). He did not hold this position for long as he was arrested on 16 December of the same year and then executed in 1936. He was exonerated in 1988. Ivan Kapitonovich Luppol (1896‒1943) was appointed as the new Director on 5 May 1935. He was a prominent scholar and a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (an academician of the AS USSR since 1939). He was illegally arrested in 1940 and exonerated in 1956. During the first years of its existence the Institute was occupied with building the scientific and material base, necessary for its work: a library that included literary periodicals, collections, printed editions from 18th and 19th centuries, scientific works by Russian and foreign scholars of literature, works by foreign and Soviet writers, including ones by authors of different ethnicities of the USSR and also funds of manuscripts and various materials (photographs, graphics and paintings, portraits, illustrations to fiction) related to the history of literature and to the everyday life of writers.

The main activities of employees of the Institute in 1935‒1937 consisted of collecting, describing, systematization and cataloguing.

A decree of the Presidium of CEC USSR issued on 14 February 1937, after A.M. Gorky’s death, created at the institute the A.M. Gorky Archive with a “storage of manuscripts and documents” related to Gorky’s life and work and a Museum of A.M. Gorky “available for labourers to acquaint themselves with his life and work”. The Museum received its first visitors on 1 November of the same year.

On 4 March 1938 the A.S. Pushkin State Museum was organized at the Institute, which was based on the materials of the Soviet Pushkin Anniversary Exhibition of 1937 that was on display in the Museum of History (in 1949 the Pushkin Museum was relocated to Leningrad).

On 16 April 1938 the Institute was included in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and granted its final name: A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the AS USSR. The Institute has been a part of the Russian Academy of Sciences since December 1991.

Creation of the scientific and material basis allowed to begin forming the research divisions in November 1937. The Institute joined the Academy of Sciences having 5 research sections (departments) already: one dedicated to studying A.M. Gorky’s works (head of the department ‒ corresponding member of the AS USSR I.K. Luppol), one devoted to the Soviet literature (headed by professor M.I. Serebrianskiy), one for Russian literature of the 18th century (headed by professor N.K. Gudziy), one for Western European literature (headed by professor F.P. Shiller), one for Ancient literature (headed by academician M.M. Pokrovskiy) and a group dedicated to studying M.Iu. Lermontov’s works (headed by professor V.Ia. Kirpotin).

E.F.Rozmirovich was the head of A.M. Gorky’s archive, S.V. Tumanov headed the A.M. Gorky’s Museum, N.F. Kartalov headed the A.S. Pushkin Museum, M.E.Golosovker headed the department of fiction illustrations, S.L.Simovskiy-Veitkov headed the manuscript department and E.A.Kliuchnikova headed the library.

At the time the primary scholarly activities of the Institute included:

-          Open meetings of departments and groups involving the scholarly and literary community;

-          Holding scholarly conferences and sessions;

-          Writing monographs and collective works on the topical issues of literary and artistic creative process, on the history of literature, on life and work of Russian and foreign writers.

The first Academic Council of the Institute was formed and approved in September 1938 by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of USSR. It consisted of corresponding member of the AS USSR I.K. Luppol (the chairman), academician M.M. Pokrovskiy, writers A.N. Tolstoy and M.A. Sholokhov, scholars of literature M.M. Morozov, N.K. Gudziy, N.F. Kartalov, A.A. Kancheev, L.I. Timofeev, M.I. Serebrianskiy, P.N. Lazich, S.V. Tumanov, S.L.Simovskiy-Veitkov, M.A. Tsiavlovskiy and M.P. Vengrov.

The first meeting of the Academic Council took place on 4 October 1938 and was dedicated merely to discussing the work schedule of the Institute for 1939, and on 3 November it already suggested I.K. Luppol, A.N. Tolstoy and M.A. Sholokhov as candidates for full membership in the AS USSR Department of Literature and Language. They were indeed elected academicians by the General Assembly of the AS USSR on 28‒29 January 1939.

On 27 August 1939 the Institute acquired the L.N. Tolstoy State Museum with all its subsidiaries (in 1944 the Museum became a separate scholarly institution at the Department of Literature and Language of the Academy of Sciences and then came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture).

The scope of research work of the Institute broadens. A group for studying the heritage of revolutionary democracy was founded in June 1939 (headed by professor B.P. Koz’min), and in December three more groups were founded for studying theory of literature (as part of the department of Soviet literature), works of A.S. Pushkin (on the base of the poet’s State Museum) and life and work of L.N. Tolstoy.

The first works of the Institute staff saw the light in 1939. They began publishing the “A.M. Gorky Archive”, the first chapter of which was “The History of Russian Literature” by A.M. Gorky, essentially a synopsis of his Capri lections from 1909‒1911. Other publications include schematic plans for the “History of Soviet Literature”, “History of English Literature” and “History of Greek Literature”. 1940 saw the publication of the first “Gorky Readings” collection that included materials of the eponymous conferences from 1938 and 1939, the “Issues of Realism in Russian Literature of the 18th Century” and “Mayakovsky. Materials and Research” collections and a “History of Ancient Greek Literature” textbook written by S.I. Radtsig. More books were published in 1941 that included “Extracts from the History of English Realism”, “Pushkin as the Progenitor of the New Russian Literature”, “Life and Work of M.Iu. Lermontov”, “The Old Russian Novel” and the second chapter of “A.M. Gorky Archive” with writer’s plays and screenplays (See: Works by the A.M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the RAS. Bibliographical Index. 1939‒2000. Moscow, 2002).

Even in the years before the War the Institute was emerging as the research centre for the history of Russian and foreign literatures, primarily the craft of Gorky, Pushkin, Lermontov and Mayakovsky.

During World War 2, 42 of the Institute employees (almost half of the staff) left for the frontline. A memorial with their names is installed in the Institute foyer. The rest of the staff were evacuated to Tashkent where they engaged in scholarly, pedagogical and educational activity under the guidance of Leonid Ippolitovich Ponomarev (1885‒1963) who served as the director of the Institute from 1940 to 1944. The funds of museums, A.M. Gorky Archive, manuscript department and department of fiction illustrations were transferred to Tashkent and partly to Tomsk with only the library remaining in Moscow.

Several evacuated literary scholars and corresponding members of the AS USSR from Leningrad also worked with the Institute staff: V.F.Shishmarev, V.M.Zhirmunskiy, N.K.Piksanov, V.P.Adrianova-Peretts, B.S.Meilakh etc.

Work on the “Histories” of Soviet, English and Roman literatures continues in Tashkent, along with the groundwork for essays on literatures of the Ukraine, Belarus and the Middle East countries: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tadzhikistan. Books about the works of A.S. Pushkin, L.N. Tolstoy and A.P. Chekhov are being written. A bibliography of works on the events of World War 2 and a chronicle of literary life during the War are being composed.

The Institute staff starts the educational work immediately after arriving in Tashkent. D.D. Blagoi and B.V. Mikhailovskiy become heads of the department of Russian literature, N.L.Brodskiy, L.I.Ponomarev, M.A.Tsiavlovskiy read special lectures, etc.

Employees of the Institute also carry out a considerable amount of cultural work: they have read over 750 lectures on diverse stages, such as hospitals and military bases. The scholars of IWL also participated in agricultural work.

In the summer of 1943 the Institute returns to Moscow and gradually recovers and then increases the number of its research areas. The sections (departments) of Soviet, Russian, Western and Ancient literature and two groups (one for studying works by A.M. Gorky and one for contemporary folklore) function within IWL in 1944. A section of literatures of the USSR ethnicities was created in 1948‒1949 and two sectors were created in 1952: a section of theory of literature and aesthetics and a textology section. In 1953 the group of modern folklore transforms into the section of folk arts of USSR ethnicities. In 1955 a group for studying Ancient Russian literature forms within the department of Russian literature and in 1957 a section of literature of socialist countries forms on the basis of the department of foreign literature.

In 1975‒1976 departments of the foreign literatures of the 20th century, of the history of world literature and of the literatures of African and Asian countries were created on the basis of the department of foreign literature, which had considerably grown by that time. A number of sections were transformed into departments to keep up with the development of their affiliated research themes and issues: those of folklore (in 1986), Russian literature of late 19th and early 20th centuries (in 1988), Ancient Russian literature (in 1992), research and publishing of A.M. Gorky’s works (in 1996).

Since 1957 the Institute publishes the journal “Voprosy Literatury” (Issues of Literature) in conjunction with the Writers Union. In 1960 IWL received control of “Literaturnoe Nasledstvo” (Literary Heritage), a periodical well-known internationally. In 1990 a publishing house “Nasledie” (Heritage) was created.

IWL becomes the leading scholarly institution in the country, coordinating research in the field of theory and history of literature alongside with the Institute of Russian Literature (also known as “Pushkin dom”, the Pushkin house) of the AS USSR.

On 16 September 1982 the Institute was awarded an Order of Friendship of Peoples for its accomplishments in developing the discipline of literature studies and professional training of scholars.

Directors of the Institute: L.B. Kamenev (1934), academician of the AS USSR I.K. Luppol (1935‒1940), L.I. Ponomarev (1940‒1944), academician of the AS USSR V.F. Shishmarev (1945‒1947), corresponding members of the AS USSR A.M. Egolin (1947‒1952), I.I. Anisimov (1952‒1966), B.L. Suchkov (1968‒1974), Doctor of Letters Iu.Ia. Barabash (1975‒1977), corresponding member of the AS USSR G.P. Berdnikov (1977‒1987), corresponding member of the AS USSR V.R.Scsherbina (acting director in 1966‒1968 and 1974‒1975), corresponding members of the RAS F.F.Kuznetsov (1987‒2005). Assistant research directors: L.I.Ponomarev (1944‒1949), V.Ia.Kirpotin (1945‒1946), S.M.Petrov (1948‒1954), N.M.Onufriev (1950‒1953), M.I.Fetisov (1953‒1955), A.A.Petrosian (1955‒1970), A.L.Dymshits (1972‒1975), P.V.Palievskiy (1977‒1995), A.S.Kurilov (1989‒1991), E.N.Lebedev (1995‒1997) and academician of the RAS Alexandr Borisovich Kudelin. Vadim Vladimirovich Polonskiy, Doctor of Letters and professor of the RAS, holds the position of director today.

The following people used to work with the Institute: academicians M.M.Pokrovskiy, Iu.B.Vipper, M.L.Gasparov, corresponding members S.I.Sobolevskiy, D.D.Blagoi, N.F.Bel'chikov, P.A.Nikolaev, L.I.Timofeev, G.I.Lomidze, S.S.Averintsev, L.D.Gromova, V.V.Novikov, E.R.Tenishev.

Among the Institute employees today are: academician B.L.Riftin, corresponding members of the RAS V.M.Gatsak, N.V.Kornienko, A.D.Mikhailov, A.L.Toporkov. The Institute staff consists of 74 Doctors of Letters and 91 PhDs in Literature.