Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had first-hand experience in the Gulag system, having been imprisoned from 1945 to 1953 for writing derogatory comments in letters to friends about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he referred to by epithets such as "the master" and "the boss". Solzhenitsyn claimed the prisoners wept when news of Stalin's death reached them! He uses the epithet "old man whiskers" in his novel, where it is translated as "Old Whiskers" or "Old Man Whiskers". This title was considered offensive and derogatory, but prisoners were free to call Stalin whatever they liked: "Somebody in the room was bellowing: 'Old Man Whiskers won't ever let you go! He wouldn't trust his own brother, let alone a bunch of cretins like you!" Drafts of stories found in Solzhenitsyn's map case were used to incriminate him (Frangsmyr, 1993).
In 1957, after being released from the exile that followed his imprisonment, Solzhenitsyn began writing One Day. In 1962, he submitted his manuscript to Novy Mir, a Russian literary magazine. The editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, was so impressed with this detailed description of life in the labor camps that he submitted the manuscript to the Communist Party Central Committee for approval to publish it (until then Soviet writers had only been allowed to refer to the camps). From there it was sent to the de-Stalinist Khrushchev, who, despite the objections of some top party members, ultimately authorized its publication with some censorship of the text. After the novel was sent to the editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky of Novy Mir, it was subsequently published in November 1962.
The labour camp described in the book was one that Solzhenitsyn had served some time at, and was located in Karaganda in northern Kazakhstan.