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Joseph Brodsky papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 613

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Brodsky Papers document the life and work of Russian-born poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky. The papers consist of correspondence, writings, personal papers (including legal, medical and financial records), audiovisual material, teaching material, student papers, newspaper clippings and printed ephemera, spanning the years 1890-2004, with the bulk of the material dating from the period 1972-1996.

The papers document all aspects of Brodsky's professional life, including writings, appearances, readings, lectures, advocacy and relations with other literary figures. The research interest of the papers encompasses Russian-language poetry, the Soviet emigre experience, and poetry translation. Researchers interested in Brodsky's creative process will find much relevant material, including multiple drafts (many corrected) of poems and essays (including translations by Brodsky and others). Teaching material is present in small quantities and provides only sporadic documentation of Brodsky's career as an educator. Personal papers are also present and chiefly document immigration and other legal affairs.

Brodsky's work, while rarely political, reflects broad historical and political themes that defined his era: empire, emigration, and the relationship of the individual to the state. The trajectory of Brodsky's publishing and teaching is inextricable from the emigre experience, as his early works were censored in the Soviet Union and promoted by publishers and scholars in the United States. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian literary public was able to "reclaim" Brodsky openly and his works (including Russian translations of his essays) were published there.

Brodsky's bilingual emigre identity is elucidated in his writings. A significant proportion of Brodsky's poetry was translated from Russian to English, often by multiple translators, and some poems exist in alternate versions. Brodsky's prose was also oft-translated: his early essays were written in Russian and translated into English, though most of his prose was written in English. While Brodsky's notes and corrections indicate engagement with the translation of his prose, it is evident that his commitment to and involvement in the translation of his poetry was profound.

Brodsky's personal papers document his bitter struggle with American and Soviet bureaucracies as he tried first to have his parents visit him in the United States and then to attend his father's funeral. After emigration, as evidenced particularly in his letters to editors, Brodsky lent his international acclaim to the cause of politically persecuted literary figures in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Brodsky's literary milieu, like his life and work, was transnational and multilingual. Correspondence, writings and audiovisual recordings document his close relationships with fellow Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney, Czes?aw Mi?osz and Derek Walcott and with English-language poets Anthony Hecht and Mark Strand, among others. Many of these poets translated Brodsky's poetry or dedicated poems to Brodsky in memorium. Hundreds of aspiring and accomplished Russian-language poets also sent him manuscripts, as evidenced in Writings of Others.


  • circa 1890-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1972 - 1996


Language of Materials

In Russian and English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Access to some material is restricted, as detailed in the following paragraphs. Consult the appropriate curator for more information.

Letters of Recommendation (Boxes 21-22), Student Papers (Boxes 127-131) and Restricted Papers (Boxes 214-217) are restricted until 2071.

The notebooks in Box 40 are partially restricted until 2071. Access to the original notebooks is restricted. A microfilm of unrestricted pages is available.

Boxes 168-169, 171-176, 220-225, and 232 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Boxes 218-219, 226 and 233-241: Restricted fragile material. Reference copies are available for electronic documents. Consult Access Services for further information. For other materials, reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Existence and Location of Copies

Portions of the collection are available on microfilm.

Conditions Governing Use

The Joseph Brodsky Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund from Lame Duck Books in 2004. One box was donated by the Estate of Joseph Brodsky in 2005.

According to a letter in her correspondence (April 1996), Ann Kjellberg (Joseph Brodsky's assistant and, after his death, literary executor) began to assemble an archive of Brodsky's papers in 1991. This effort continued after his death in 1996. Friends and associates of Brodsky (George Kline, Carl Proffer, Masha Vorobiov and others) sent Kjellberg originals and photocopies of papers to be included in the archive. Provenance of individual items can sometimes be traced by Kjellberg's or others' notes on the material.


Organized into eleven series: I. Correspondence, 1964-2004. II. Writings, 1959-2000. III. Interviews and Speeches, 1974-1996. IV. Teaching Material and Student Papers, 1973-1995. V. Personal Papers, 1961-2000. VI. Photographs, 1890-2001. VII. Audiovisual Material, 1953-2002. VIII. Clippings, 1964-2002. IX. Printed Material, 1920-2003. X. Artwork, 1972-1986. XI. Papers of Others, 1912-2000.

Associated Materials

Printed material received with the collection was removed for separate cataloging and can be accessed by searching the library's online catalog.


115.28 Linear Feet ((228 boxes) + 3 broadside)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Joseph Brodsky Papers document the life and work of Russian-born poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, with a particular emphasis on the time period of his residence in the United States (1972-1996). The papers consist of correspondence, writings, personal papers (including legal, medical and financial records), audiovisual material, teaching material, student papers, newspaper clippings and printed ephemera, spanning the years 1890-2004, with the bulk of the material dating from the period 1972-1996.

Joseph Brodsky, 1940-1996

Joseph Brodsky, Russian-born poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was born in Leningrad on May 24, 1940 to Aleksandr Ivanovich Brodskii and Mariia Moiseevna Brodskaia (nee Vol'pert). His birth was just one year before the start of the Leningrad Blockade; thus his early years were ones of extreme hardship. The Brodsky family's Jewish heritage exposed them to the anti-Semitic atmosphere of the post-war Soviet Union, causing Aleksandr Ivanovich to lose his rank in the Army and preventing Joseph from entering into the submarine academy. The communal apartment where Brodsky lived with his parents (and where his parents lived until their deaths) was memorialized in his essay "A room and a half."

Joseph Brodsky ended his formal schooling by walking out of his public school classroom at age fifteen and worked in a variety of places, including a factory, a morgue, and on geological expiditions. He began to write poetry in his teens and soon demonstrated a keen interest in translation. He taught himself Polish and English in order to translate poetry, including that of Czes?aw Mi?osz and John Donne. Brodsky's Russian literary influences included Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva. His early writings in Russia were circulated in samizdat (self-published) collections, the most complete one compiled by Vladimir Maramzin.

Brodsky was arrested several times starting in 1961, tried in 1964 as a "social parasite" (tuneiadets), and sentenced to five years of labor in Norenskaia (a village in the Arkhangelsk Province of northern Russia). Brodsky lived in Norenskaia from March of 1964 to October of 1965 and wrote prolificly there. Brodsky's trial and sentence brought him increasing international attention when Frida Vigdorova's transcript was publicized in the Western media. It was also around this time that his poetry began to be compiled and published in the United States. Stikhotvoreniia i Poemy (Washington, D.C. & New York: Inter-Language Literary Associates) was published in in 1965, followed by Ostanovka v pustyne (New York: Izdatel'stvo imeni Chekhova) in 1970. Even after his release from Norenskaia, Brodsky continued to be at constant risk of arrest. In 1972 he was forced to emigrate when he was suddenly granted a visa (for which he had not applied) to emigrate to Israel. He had to leave Russia within a matter of weeks.

Brodsky traveled to Austria, where he stayed with W.H. Auden for several weeks, and to England before coming to the United Sates. He accepted a position as Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan (a post that Carl Proffer, founder of Ardis Publishing, was instrumental in securing). Brodsky taught at Michigan until 1981, when he accepted a permanent position on the faculty of Mount Holyoke College. He then divided his time between New York City and South Hadley, Massachusetts. He became a United States citizen in 1977. Brodsky never returned to Russia after emigrating, though later in his life political circumstances would have allowed it and his Russian readers clamored for it.

Among Brodsky's many awards and honors are a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1977), a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award (1981), a National Book Critics Circle award (1986), the Nobel Prize in Literature (1987), France's Order of the Legion of Honor (1991), and honorary degrees from Yale University (1978), Dartmouth College (1989), and Oxford University (1991). He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1991 to 1992.

Brodsky suffered from heart disease throughout his adult life and he had several open-heart surgeries. He died of heart failure on January 28, 1996.

During his lifetime, much of Brodsky's collected poetry and prose was published by Ardis in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Russian-language poetry) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York (English-language poetry, English translations and prose collections). Brodsky's major publications from 1977 to 2000 include:

  1. Chast' rechi: Stikhotvoreniia 1972-76 (Ardis, 1977)
  2. Konets prekrasnoi epokhi: Stikhotvoreniia 1964-71 (Ardis, 1977)
  3. V Anglii (Ardis, 1977)
  4. A Part of Speech (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980)
  5. Rimskie elegii (New York: Russica, 1982)
  6. Novye stansy k Avguste: Stikhi k M.B., 1962-1982 (Ardis, 1983)
  7. Less Than One: Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986)
  8. Uraniia (Ardis, 1987)
  9. To Urania: Selected Poems 1965-1985 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988)
  10. Watermark (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992)
  11. On Grief and Reason: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995)
  12. Peizazh s navodneniem (Dana Point, California: Ardis, 1996)
  13. So Forth: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996)
  14. Collected Poems in English, 1972-1999 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000)

Processing Information

The collection was formerly classed as Uncat.MSS 649, Uncat.MSS 766, Uncat.MSS 876 and Uncat.MSS 926.

The Library of Congress system is used to transliterate Russian, but diacritics are not used. Illustrative examples are: Iuz Aleshkovskii and Efim Etkind. Names of Russian emigres are spelled in accordance with the individual's usage or record of publication. Therefore these spellings do not necessarily conform to standard Library of Congress transliteration. For example, the spelling Joseph Brodsky is used throughout the finding aid, while Brodsky's parents are referred to as Aleksandr Brodskii and Mariia Brodskaia.

Electronic files were refreshed into the Yale University Library Rescue Repository. Technical specifications are filed with the media in Restricted Fragile.

Boxes 227-231 and folders 3767-3822 and 4710-4758 are unused. Original videocassettes are now housed in boxes 171-176. Restricted fragile material.

Boxes 161-167 and folders 3645-3723, 3725-3736, 3747-3756, 3758-3766 are unused. Original audiocassettes and reel-to-reel audiotapes are now housed in boxes 220-225 and 232. Restricted fragile material.

Guide to the Joseph Brodsky Papers
by Lisa Conathan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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