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Joseph Brodsky collection

Identifier: MS 0863

Scope and Contents

The papers of Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) span the years 1972-1996, with the bulk of materials dating from 1993 to 1994. The collection is in English and Russian and is organized into the following series: Correspondence, Writings, Teaching Materials, Biographical Information, and Audio Visual Materials. The majority of which relate to poetry courses Brodsky taught as Professor of English while at Mount Holyoke College. Writings (1972-1996) include poetry published in the New Yorker. Writing include ssays published in the New Republic, Chronicle of Higher Education and the New Yorker, articles published in the New York Times Magazine and reviews published in the New York Times Book Review.

Teaching Materials include 94 audio cassettes that capture all of his class lectures for Russian 230: Poetry in Translation: The Nineteenth Century taught in the spring of 1993, and English 265: Lyric Poetry taught in the spring of 1994 as a Mount Holyoke College English and Russian faculty member. Also included are 55 CDs that are digital surrogates of the original audio cassettes, as well as transcriptions from the lectures delivered Poetry in Translation: The Nineteenth Century. Also included in Teaching Materials are course catalog descriptions of Poetry in Translation: The Nineteenth Century and Lyric Poetry. There are course notes in Brodsky’s hand, copies of course readings and student work both graded and ungraded. These course materials document Brodsky’s teaching style and vast knowledge of the poetic genre.

Biographical Information includes original and photocopies of Joseph Brodsky's published poetry, essays, articles and reviews in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Review and the New Yorker. Included are two interviews with Brodsky from 1986 and 1989, reflections from a former Mount Holyoke College student, Lynnette Labinger who visited Brodsky in 1970, articles that document Brodsky being awarded the Poet Laureate Consultant on Poetry to the Library of Congress or Poet Laureate in 1991, as well as programs and obituaries documenting Brodsky's death in 1996 and the Mount Holyoke College community memorial service held on February 20, 1996.

Audio Visual Materials include 3 audiocassettes, 2 CDs, 3 VHS recordings, 1 reel of 35mm film and 1 DVD of lectures, readings, speeches and panel discussions given or led by Brodsky, as well as a Mount Holyoke College memorial service honoring Brodsky after his death in 1996 and an October 8, 2010 anniversary celebration sponsored by the Russian Studies Department on DVD.


  • Creation: 1970-2010

Conditions Governing Access


Biographical Note

Joseph Aleksandrovich Brodsky, the Russian poet was born in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. on May 24, 1940 to Russian Jewish parents. His mother worked as a professional translator, and his father served as a photographer for the Soviet Navy. As a teenager, Brodsky taught himself English and Polish and began writing poetry at age eighteen. Famed Russian poet Anna Akhmatova encouraged his poetry when they met in 1960. In 1962, in Saint Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova introduced Brodsky to the artist Marina Basmanova, with whom he would have a son, Andrey. The U.S.S.R. government charged and arrested Brodsky in 1963 for “social parasitism” or failure to work. The government tried and convicted Brodsky in March of 1964. Successful protests led by Anna Akhmatova, Evgeny Evtushenko, Dmitri Shostakovich and Jean-Paul Sartre during Brodsky’s detention eventually reduced his sentence from five years of physical work in a gulag labor camp to eighteen months in Siberia. Upon release, the KGB ordered him to leave the country and sent him to Vienna. While in Vienna, Brodsky lost his citizenship and soon immigrated to the United States. Brodsky settled in Ann Arbor, with the help of poet W. H. Auden. During the 1972-73 academic year, Brodsky was Poet in Residence and Professor of English and Russian at both the University of Michigan and Queens College in New York. Initially connected to the Pioneer Valley through professional collaboration with Peter Viereck, Brodsky filled the position of Poet in Resident and Distinguished Acting Professor at The Five Colleges from 1974-1975, as well as filling the position of the first of The Five College Distinguished Visiting Professorships. In 1981, Brodsky received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award and became a professor in the Five College Consortium, based in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1982, Brodsky served as the Five College Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College. In 1986, he served as an Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College.

Brodsky was granted United States citizenship in 1977. In 1978, Brodsky was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University. In 1979, he was inducted as a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and two years later received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius" award. Brodsky was 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 and he was given an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Oxford University. Brodsky received the National Book Award for criticism in 1986. In 1987 he was honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature. Brodsky married a student named Maria Sozzani in 1990 while teaching literature in France and they had one daughter, Anna. In September of 1991, he became the fifth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress or as the award is more commonly know, U.S. Poet Laureate. Brodsky died in New York City at the age of fifty-five on January 28, 1996.

Poetry Collections

Stikhotvoreniia i poemy(Poems and Narrative Verse)
Elegy for John Donne and Other Poems
Velka elegie
Ostanovka v pustyne(A Stopover in the Wilderness)
Selected Poems
Konets prekrasnoi epokhi(The End of the Beautiful Epoch)
Chast’ rechi(A Part of Speech)
Poems and Translations
A Part of Speech
Verses on the Winter Campaign 1980
Rimskie elegii (Roman Elegies)
To Urania : Selected Poems, 1965-1985
Primechaniia paporotnika(Commentaries of Fern)
On Grief and Reason: Essays
V okrestnostiakh Atlantidy(In the Environs of Atlantis)
So Forth: Poems
Peizazh s navodneniem(A Flooded Landscape) Essay and interview collections

Essays and Plays

Less Than One: Selected Essays
On Grief and Reason: Essays Plays
Marbles: a Play in Three Acts


6.88 Linear Feet (15 full Hollinger and 3 half Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials



Joseph Brodsky, (1940-1996); Russian Poet and Literature professor, Mount Holyoke College. Papers contain a letter, select writings, teaching materials, biographical information and multi-media materials documenting his teaching and life in the Five College community.

Processing Information

Arranged by Sarah Wilkinson and Patricia Albright. Finding aid and Encoding by Lori Satter, 2010

Joseph Brodsky Collection, 1970-2010 (bulk 1993-1994):
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Lori Satter.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA