Iosif Brodsky - biography
Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky (Russian: Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский) (24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996) was a Soviet-Russian-American poet, essayist, and Nobel Laureate in Literature. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1991.
Brodsky was born into a Jewish family in Leningrad. His father was a professional photographer in the Soviet Navy and also published photos in papers and magazines. His mother was a professional interpreter. In early childhood Brodsky survived the Siege of Leningrad when he and his parents nearly died of starvation, and later he suffered from various health problems caused by the siege. When he was fifteen, Brodsky left school and tried to enter the School of Submariners without success. He went on to work as a milling machine operator. Later, having decided to become a physician, he worked at the morgue at the Kresty prison. He subsequently held a variety of jobs at a hospital, in a ship's boiler room, and on geological expeditions. At the same time, Brodsky engaged in a program of self-education. He learned English and Polish (mainly to translate poems by Czesław Miłosz, who was Brodsky's favorite poet and later became a friend), and acquired a deep interest in classical philosophy, religion, mythology, and English and American poetry.
Brodsky began writing his own poetry and producing literary translations around 1957. His writings were apolitical. The young Brodsky was encouraged and influenced by the poet Anna Akhmatova who called some of his verses "enchanting." In 1963, he was arrested and in 1964 charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities. A famous excerpt from the transcript of his trial made by journalist Frida Vigdorova was smuggled to the West: Judge: And what is your profession, in general? Brodsky: I am a poet and a literary translator. Judge: Who recognizes you as a poet? Who enrolled you in the ranks of poets? Brodsky: No one. Who enrolled me in the ranks of humankind? Judge: Did you study this? Brodsky: What this? Judge: How to become a poet. You did not even try to finish high school where they prepare, where they teach? Brodsky: I didn’t think you could get this from school. Judge: How then? Brodsky: I think that it ... comes from God, yes God.
For his "parasitism" Brodsky was sentenced to five years of internal exile with obligatory engagement in physical work and served 18 months in the Archangelsk region. His sentence was commuted in 1965 after protests by prominent Soviet and foreign cultural figures, including Evgeny Evtushenko, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
In 1964, Leonid Brezhnev came to power. As the Khrushchev Thaw period ended, only four of Brodsky's poems were published in the Soviet Union. He refused to publish his writings under censorship and most of his work has appeared only in the West or in samizdat form.
Brodsky was expelled from the USSR on 4 June 1972 and moved to the United States where he was naturalized in 1977. His first teaching position in the US was at the University of Michigan. He was Poet-in-Residence and Visiting Professor at Queens College, Smith College, Columbia University, and the Cambridge University in England. He was a Five-College Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College, brought there by poet and historian Peter Viereck.
In 1978, Brodsky was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University, and on 23 May 1979, he was inducted as a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1981, Brodsky received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius" award. He is also a recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.
In 1986, his collection of essays Less Than One won the National Book Critics Award for Criticism. In 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fifth Russian-born writer to do so. At an interview in Stockholm airport, to the question: "You are an American citizen who is receiving the Prize for Russian-language poetry. Who are you, an American or a Russian?", he responded: "I am Jewish - a Russian poet and an English essayist".
Brodsky held an honorary degree from the University of Silesia in Poland and was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.
In 1991, Brodsky became Poet Laureate of the United States. His inauguration address was printed in Poetry Review.
n 1962, in Saint Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova introduced Brodsky to the artist Marina Basmanova. Marina had the type of appearance which fascinated Brodsky: her dark hair, green eyes and mellow voice enchanted the poet. She believed herself to be the most beautiful woman, and Brodsky believed himself to be the best poet. From then until his exile in 1972 Brodsky had a relationship with Marina Basmanova which produced a son Andrey. Basmanova joined Brodsky in his sentence in Archangelsk, but she never married Brodsky, because of obstruction from the Soviet authorities. She registered the child under her own surname. However, Brodsky supported Marina and Andrey.
In the 1990s Brodsky invited his son to visit him in New York for three months, and they maintained a father-son relationship until Brodsky's death. Andrey married in the 1990s and the marriage produced three children, all of them were recognized and supported by Brodsky as his grandchildren. Marina, Andrey and his children are living in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
In 1990, while teaching literature in France, Brodsky married a young student Maria Sozzani, who has a Russian-Italian background. The marriage produced one daughter, Anna.
Brodsky died of a heart attack in his New York City apartment on January 28, 1996, and was buried in the Episcopalian section at Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice, Italy (the setting of his book Watermark).