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, Czesław Miłosz 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.