Sholokhov was born in Russia, in the "land of the Cossacks" – the Kruzhilin hamlet, part of stanitsa Vyoshenskaya, in the former Administrative Region of the Don Cossack Army.
His father, Aleksander Mikhailovich (1865–1925), was a member of the lower middle class, at times a farmer, cattle trader, and miller. Sholokhov's mother, Anastasia Danilovna Chernikova (1871–1942), the widow of a Cossack, came from Ukrainian peasant stock (her father was a peasant in the Chernihiv oblast). She did not become literate until a point in her life when she wanted to correspond with her son.
Sholokhov attended schools in Karginskaya, Moscow, Boguchar, and Veshenskaya until 1918, when he joined the Bolshevik side in the Russian Civil War at the age of 13. He spent the next few years fighting in the civil war.
Sholokhov began writing at 17. He completed his first literary work, the short story, "The Birthmark", at 19.
In 1922 Sholokhov moved to Moscow to become a journalist, but he had to support himself through manual labour. He was a stevedore, stonemason, and accountant from 1922 to 1924, but he also intermittently participated in writers' "seminars". His first published work was a satirical article, The Test (Oct. 19, 1923).
In 1924 Sholokhov returned to Veshenskaya and devoted himself entirely to writing. In the same year he married Maria Petrovna Gromoslavskaia (1901 -1992), the daughter of Pyotr Gromoslavsky, the ataman of Bukanovskaya village; they had two daughters and two sons.
His first book Tales from the Don, a volume of stories about his native region during World War I and the Russian Civil War, largely based on his personal experiences, was published in 1926. The story "Nakhalyonok", partially based on his own childhood, was later made into a popular film.
In the same year Sholokhov began writing And Quiet Flows the Don, which earned the Stalin Prize and took him fourteen years to complete (1926–1940). It became the most-read work of Soviet fiction and was heralded as a powerful example of socialist realism, and it earned him the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature. It deals with the experiences of the Cossacks before and during World War I and the Russian Civil War.
Virgin Soil Upturned, which earned the Lenin Prize, took 28 years to complete. It was composed of two parts: Seeds of Tomorrow (1932) and Harvest on the Don (1960), and reflects life during collectivization in the Don area.
The short story "The Fate of a Man" (1957) was made into a popular Russian film.
His unfinished novel, They Fought for Their Country is about World War II fighting in the USSR (in Russia the Soviet-German war during World War II is commonly referred to as the Great Patriotic War).
During World War II Sholokhov wrote about the Soviet war efforts for various journals. He also covered the devastation caused by Nazi troops along the Don. His mother was killed when Veshenskaya was bombed in 1942.
Sholokhov's collected works were published in eight volumes between 1956 and 1960.
Sholokhov was accused of plagiarizing And Quiet Flows the Don, which had made his international reputation. Sholokhov's critics claimed that it was written by Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossack and Anti-Bolshevik who had died in 1920.
Because of the accusations starting in 1928 Sholokhov asked Pravda newspaper to prove his authorship. He submitted his manuscripts of the first three volumes of And Quiet Flows the Don and the plan of the fourth one. In 1929 a special commission was formed that accepted Sholokhov's authorship. In the conclusion signed by four experts, the commission stated that there was no evidence of plagiarism on the one hand, and on the other hand the manuscripts' style was close to that of Sholokhov's previous book, Tales from the Don.
The allegations resurfaced in the 1960s with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a notable proponent, possibly in retaliation for Sholokhov's scathing opinion of Solzhenitsyn's novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
In 1984 Norwegian Slavicist and mathematician Geir Kjetsaa, in a monograph written with three other colleagues, provided statistical analyses showing that Mikhail Sholokhov was likely the true author of And Quiet Flows the Don, and in 1987, several hundred pages of notes and drafts of the work were discovered and authenticated, including chapters excluded from the final draft.
During the Second World War, Sholokhov's archive was destroyed in a bomb raid, and only the fourth volume survived. Sholokhov had his friend Vassily Kudashov, who was killed in the war, look after it. Following Kudashov's death, his widow took possession of the manuscript, but she never disclosed her ownership.
The manuscript was finally found by the Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1999 with assistance from the Russian government. The writing paper dates back to the 1920s: 605 pages are in Sholokhov's own hand, and 285 are transcribed by his wife Maria and sisters.
In 1999 the Russian Academy of Science carried out an analysis of the manuscript and came to the conclusion that And Quiet Flows the Don had been written by Sholokhov himself.
Statistical analysis of sentence lengths in And Quiet Flows the Don gives full support to Sholokhov.
Sholokhov met Joseph Stalin in 1930 and must have made a good impression, because he was one of very few people who could give the dictator a truthful account of what was happening in the country without risk to himself. In the 1930s he wrote several letters to Stalin from his home in Veshenskaya about the appalling conditions in the kolkhozes and sovkhozes along the Don, requesting assistance for the farmers. In January 1931, he warned: "Comrade Stalin, without exaggeration, conditions are catastrophic!" On 4 April 1933, he sent a long letter in which, among many other details, he named two OGPU officers whom he accused of torturing prisoners from his district. Stalin reacted by sending a senior official, Matvey Shkiryatov, to investigate. The two officers were arrested and sentenced to death; their sentences were later revoked, but they were banned from working in Sholokhov's home village. Stalin also arranged for extra food to be sent to Veshenskaya and the neighbouring district.
Sholokhov joined the CPSU in 1932, and in 1937 he was elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. In August 1937, his best friend, the secretary of the Veshenskaya party committee, P.K. Lugovoi, was arrested. Sholokohov was due to take part in an international writers' conference, but he refused to leave the country while Lugovoi was being held. Stalin sent another official, Vladimir Stavsky, to investigate, and invited Sholokhov to visit him in the Kremlin. After their meeting, on 4 November 1937, Lugovoi and two other prisoners on whose behalf Sholokhov had interceded were released, but in a subsequent letter to Stalin, he complained that the people responsible for wrongfully arresting them had not been punished.
On a visit to Moscow in 1938, Sholokhov met Yevgenia Yezhova, wife of Nikolai Yezhov, the chief of police, and checked into a hotel room with her, unaware that the room was bugged. Yezhov heard the recording and attacked Yezhova. On 23 October 1938, Sholokhov met Stalin in the Kremlin to complain that he had been put under surveillance in Veshenskaya, but when Yezhov was summoned to explain, he claimed not to know why. They met again on 31 October: this time the officer who had been investigating Sholokhov was also summoned. He said his orders had come from Moscow, but Yezhov again denied giving the order. Sholokhov claimed that he completed the fourth and last volume of And Quite Flows the Don and its sequel on 21 December 1939, the day when the USSR was celebrating what was supposedly Stalin's 60th birthday, and celebrated by opening a bottle of wine that Stalin had given him. He then wrote to Stalin to say how he had marked the special day.
In 1959 he accompanied Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on a trip to Europe and the United States. He became a member of the CPSU Central Committee in 1961, Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1939, and was a member of the USSR Supreme Soviet. He was twice awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor, and later became vice president of the Union of Soviet Writers.
An asteroid in main-belt is named after him, 2448 Sholokhov.Donskie Rasskazy, 1925 – Tales of the Don.Lazorevaja Step, 1926.Tikhii Don, 4 vol., 1928–1940 (The Quiet Don) – And Quiet Flows the Don (1934); The Don Flows Home to the Sea (1940); Quiet Flows the Don (1966). A three-part film version, directed by Sergei Gerasimov and starring P. Glebov, L. Khityaeva, Z. Kirienko and E. Bystrltskaya, was produced in 1957–1958.Podnyataya Tselina, 1932–1960 – Virgin Soil Upturned (1935); Harvest on the Don (1960).Oni Srazhalis Za Rodinu, 1942 – They Fought for Their Country.Nauka Nenavisti, 1942 – Hate / The Science of Hatred.Slovo O Rodine, 1951.Sudba Cheloveka, 1956–1957 – Destiny of a Man. A film version directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and starring Sergei Bondarchuk, Pavlik Boriskin, Zinaida Kirienko, Pavel Volkov, Yuri Avelin, and K. Alekseev was produced in 1959.Sobranie Sochinenii, 1956–1958 – collected works (8 vols.)Oni Srazhalis Za Rodinu, 1959 – They Fought for their CountrySobranie Sochinenii, 1962 – collected works (8 vols.)Early Stories, 1966.One Man's Destiny, and Other Stories, Articles, and Sketches, 1923–1963, 1967Fierce and Gentle Warriors, 1967.Po Veleniju Duši, 1970 – At the Bidding of the HeartSobranie Sochinenii, 1975 (8 vols.)Rossiya V Serdtse, 1975.SLOVO O RODINE, 1980.Collected Works, 1984 (8 vols.)Sobranie Sochinenii, 1985 (collected works) (8 vols.)Sholokhov I Stalin, 1994.