Joseph Brodsky Biography

(Poet, Essayist and Winner of 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature)

Birthday: May 24, 1940 (Gemini)

Born In: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Joseph Brodsky was an acclaimed Russian and American essayist and poet. In the course of his career, he wrote poetry, plays and essays, worked on translations of work of other poets and lectured in prestigious colleges. Though he began his career in the Soviet Union, he later emigrated to Vienna, London and finally settled in the United States of America. His works were largely apolitical; with themes like nature, love, death, anguish, the frailty of man’s accomplishments and attachments often being used and repeated. Along with numerous awards and honours from prestigious institutions, Joseph Brodsky was the recipient of the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. Upon being asked about his citizenship, Joseph Brodsky was known to state that he was Jewish by birth, a Russian poet, an English essayist and an American citizen. In 2009, a feature film had been made based on the life of this respected personality.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky

Died At Age: 55


Spouse/Ex-: Maria Sozzani

father: Aleksandr Brodsky

mother: Maria Volpert Brodsky

children: Anastasiya Kuznetsova, Andrei Basmanov, Anna Brodsky

Nobel Laureates In Literature Poets

Died on: January 28, 1996

place of death: Brooklyn Heights, New York, United States

Notable Alumni: Clare Hall, Cambridge

Grouping of People: Jewish Writer

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

City: Saint Petersburg, Russia

More Facts

education: Clare Hall, Cambridge

awards: 1987 - Nobel Prize in Literature
1991 - United States Poet Laureate
1981 - MacArthur Fellowship - Poetry

1977 - Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts
US & Canada
1986 - National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism - Less Than One

Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Brodsky was born to a Jewish family on 24 May 1940 at Leningrad, Soviet Union. His father, Aleksandr Brodsky, was a professional photographer with the Soviet Navy, and mother, Maria Volpert Brodsky, was a professional translator and book keeper.
Joseph Brodsky was known to have had a rebellious childhood, often being caught for indiscipline. When he was fifteen years he left school and attempted to enroll into the School of Submarines in vain.
He then decided to pursue education to become a physician and this led to him work at the Kresty Prison mortuary. This was followed by a series of other jobs in hospitals, geological expeditions and a ship’s boiler room.
During this phase, he began self-educating himself and learnt Polish and English so that he could translate works of poets, both Polish and English. It was then that he developed interest in topics like philosophy, poetry, religion and mythology.
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Joseph Brodsky began his career at a very early age. In 1955, he began by translating literary works and writing his own poetry. His works were largely non-political in nature, and was circulated privately, a few of his works were also published in the journal ‘Sintaksis’.
By 1958, he was a well known name in the literary circle. His poems ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘The Jewish Cemetery’ were among his first appreciated works.
In 1960, he met poet Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, whom he befriended and later even considered as a mentor. In the early 1960’s he had to face harassment from both media as well the Soviet government.
In 1964, he was put under trial for ‘social parasitism’ and his works were denounced as ‘anti-Soviet’. This led to him tried, admitted into a mental institution and later being arrested as well. He was sentenced to five years of hard labour and sent to Arkhangelsk.
While at the labour camp at Arkhangelsk, he used to work all day and read poetry during the night. His biggest influences during the time were poets as W. H. Auden, Robert Frost and John Donne.
His sentence was commuted in 1965 following protests by prominent Soviet and foreign cultural figures, such as, Evgeny Evtushenko, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Joseph Brosdky’s first publication of his poems in Russia was in 1965. In 1967, a volume of his English translation works was published in London. Over the years, many of his works were translated to English, German and French and published abroad.
Between 1966 and 1967, only four of his poems were published in Leningrad anthologies, and majority of his works were being circulated in secrecy and available outside the Soviet Union until the year 1987.
In 1971, he was invited to migrate to Israel; however, he did not accept the offer as he wished to stay in Russia.
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In 1972, he became an involuntary exile and was sent to Vienna. After a short stay in Vienna and London, he settled at Ann Arbor in Michigan, and took up work as a poet in residence at Michigan University.
In 1973, he published a poem collection ‘Selected Poems’ which included a prologue by English poet W. H. Auden.
Joseph Brodsky went on to take up work as a visiting professor in prestigious universities like Smith College, Cambridge University, Queens College and Columbia University and finally returning to Michigan University.
He published another compilation of poems titled ‘A Part of Speech’ in 1980. This work was well appreciated and he shifted to New York.
In 1986, his collection of essays ‘Less Than One’ was published. The work showcased his talent as a writer and was earned great recognition. Two years later his poetry collection ‘To Urania’ was published.
In 1992, he published an essay compilation on Venice, under the title ‘Watermark’. He continued to compose poems and write essays till his death.
Recommended Lists:
Major Works
Joseph Brodsky was a highly acclaimed poet and essayist. His most notable works include his poetry collections like ‘A Part of Speech’ and ‘To Urania’. He is also the author of the remarkable essay compilations as ‘Watermark’ and ‘Less Than One’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1978, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University
He won the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” award in 1981.

He won the National Book Critics Award for his collection of essays ‘Less Than One’.
In 1987, Joseph Brodsky won the ‘Nobel Prize in Literature’ for ‘all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity’.
Joseph Brodsky was announced the United States Poet Laureate of 1991. The same year he was awarded the Struga Poetry Evenings Golden Wreath Award.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1962, Joseph Brodsky met Marina Basamanova, a painter and began a relationship with her. On 8 October 1967, their son Andrei was born. Political pressure and threats prevented them from marrying each other and subsequently they broke their relationship. He continued to dedicate poems to her after the birth of their son.
In 1990, Joseph Brodsky married Russian-Italian student Maria Sozzani. They had a daughter named Anna.
He died of a heart attack on 28 January 1996, in New York City, at the age of 55.
The ‘A Room And a Half’ directed by Andrey Khrzhanovsky is based his life.

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