Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov was born in 1885 in Malye Derbety, Astrakhan Governorate, Russian Empire ( in present-day Kalmykia). He was of Russian, Armenian and Zaporozhian Cossack descent. He moved to Kazan, where he attended school. He then attended school in Saint Petersburg. He eventually quit school to become a full-time writer.
Khlebnikov belonged to Hylaea, the most significant Russian Futurist group, (along with Vladimir Mayakovsky, Aleksei Kruchenykh, David Burliuk, and Benedikt Livshits), but had already written many significant poems before the Futurist movement in Russia had taken shape. Among his contemporaries, he was regarded as “a poet’s poet” (Mayakovsky referred to him as a “poet for producers”) and a maverick genius. Khlebnikov was involved in the publication of A Slap in the Face of Public Taste in 1912, which was a critical component of the Russian futurism poetry.
Khlebnikov is known for poems such as “Incantation by Laughter”, “Bobeobi Sang The Lips”, “The Grasshopper” (all 1908-9), “Snake Train” (1910), the prologue to the Futurist opera Victory over the Sun (1913), dramatic works such as “Death’s Mistake” (1915), prose works such as “Ka” (1915), and the so-called ‘super-tale’ (сверхповесть) “Zangezi”, a sort of ecstatic drama written partly in invented languages of gods and birds. He published Selected Poems with Postscript, 1907–1914 circa 1914. Kazimir Malevich and Pavel Filonov co-illustrated it.
In his work, Khlebnikov experimented with the Russian language, drawing upon its roots to invent huge numbers of neologisms, and finding significance in the shapes and sounds of individual letters of Cyrillic. Along with Kruchenykh, he originated zaum.
He wrote futurological essays about such things as the possible evolution of mass communication (“The Radio of the Future”) and transportation and housing (“Ourselves and Our Buildings”). He described a world in which people live and travel about in mobile glass cubicles that can attach themselves to skyscraper-like frameworks, and in which all human knowledge can be disseminated to the world by radio and displayed automatically on giant book-like displays at streetcorners.
In his last years, Khlebnikov became fascinated by Slavic mythology and Pythagorean numerology, and drew up long “Tables of Destiny” decomposing historical intervals and dates into functions of the numbers 2 and 3.
Khlebnikov died while a guest in the house of his friend Pyotr Miturich near Kresttsy, in June, 1922. There has been no medical diagnosis of his last illness; he suffered from gangrene and paralysis (he seems not to have recovered the use of his legs after his 1920 hospitalization in Kharkov), and it has been suggested that he died of blood poisoning or toxemia.