Hey, did you know my mom is a bestseller in Russia? Well, the English translation of her latest book has just come out and she will be doing talks both at Cleveland Public Library (Monday, October 2nd at 6pm) and at my favorite bookstore in the world, Loganberry Books (Tuesday, Oct 3rd at 7pm)
Given the current climate and divide between the US and Russia, these talks are very now if you are interested in poetry, literature, and how to cope when a government censors and attacks its artists. Read more below! There’s also a video and podcast link….
Monday, October 2nd from 6pm to 8pm at Cleveland Public Library, 525 Superior, Main Library in the Louis Stokes Wing 2nd Floor. Cleveland, Ohio. Q&A and refreshments to follow.
Censorship, anti-intellectualism, and totalitarian despair. How are creatives to resist, and survive?
Author and publisher Ellendea Proffer Teasley is in Cleveland to talk about her memoir Brodsky Among Us, recently released in English, but already a runaway bestseller in Russia, where it was translated as soon as it was finished, an indicator of Joseph Brodsky’s status in his native country. Proffer Teasley’s portrait of this brilliant poet is something very different from the hagiographic portraits that had come before, and was immediately acclaimed as the most believable description of this complex genius.
Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972, was a notorious poet and protégé of Anna Akhmatova. KGB arrests, a courtroom trial, and sentence of hard labor exile near the Arctic Circle only added to this notoriety. However, when he landed in the United States — thanks to a young Midwestern couple from Ann Arbor, Michigan — he truly began his path to international fame, eventually winning the Nobel Prize for poetry.
It was the late 1960s in the Soviet Union that Ellendea Proffer Teasley met Brodsky after she and her husband Carl Proffer found themselves admitted into the small and exclusive circle of legendary writers, poets, and artists that included Nadezhda Mandelstam, Elena S. Bulgakova, Lily Brik, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Witnessing the censorship of creatives, in what Proffer Teasley later coined an, “eleven time zone prison” the Proffers began the legendary publishing house Ardis Publishers in 1971, the only one in the world devoted exclusively to Russian literature in both English and Russian, a remarkable feat given that they themselves were not Russian. Ardis published the first English translations of books by major Russian writers such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Bulgakov, Anna Akhmatova, and many others, including young Soviet writers. Ardis became known to Russian readers for its determination to publish the “lost library” of the Russian twentieth century, books that were erased from history by the Soviets and physically destroyed. Most important of the forbidden authors was Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel Lolita was banned in the Soviet Union. The Ardis editions somehow got smuggled into the Soviet Union to the readers who were desperate for them.
The Proffers brought Brodsky to America after his exile, and miraculously secured him as a poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan. From there his rise to fame in the United States was meteoric; receiving a MacArthur Fellowship, appointed the United States Poet Laureate in 1991, teaching at the best American universities, and becoming the toast of New York.
Since his death 1996, Brodsky has been greatly deified in the form of museums, statues, film biopics, and even referenced on HBO shows like “The Young Pope”. Brodsky Among Us attempts to shed light on a man, not the legend: it is a frank picture of a willful and creative mind.
Brodsky Among Us is a deeply felt memoir of a life lived between two cultures and friendships with Vladimir Nabokov, Vasily Aksyonov, Vladimir Voinovich and many other writers, and it has resonated with all those who are interested in not only poetry, but also the Cold War itself and the myriad ways these cultures found to connect despite official prohibition of contacts.
Ellendea Proffer Teasley a writer, translator, and co-founded Ardis Publishers in 1971. She is known for Mikhail Bulgakov: Life & Work (1984); translations of Bulgakov’s plays and prose; numerous articles and introductions, most prominently the Notes and Afterword to the Burgin-O’Connor translation of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. She edited a series of well-received photo-biographies, including those devoted to Nabokov, Tsvetaeva and Bulgakov. She was on the first judges’ panel for the Booker Russian Novel Prize, and in 1989 received a MacArthur Fellowship. She lives and works in Dana Point, California.
Reconsidering Russia podcast
“Her Brodsky is brilliant, reckless, and deeply human… an engaging, compulsively readable text that is bodacious, graceful, seamless.” — The Book Haven, Stanford University
“If this book did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. But the problem is that very few people would be able to invent it—that is, to write it this way: without teary-eyed delight or spiteful score-settling, without petty fights with either the dead or the living, and at the same time with a full understanding of the caliber and distinctiveness of its “hero.”
— Anna Narinskaia, Kommersant Daily
“Proffer Teasley’s Brodsky is both darker and brighter than the one we thought we knew, and he is the stronger for it, as a poet and a person…Brodsky Among Us appears to have been written in a single exhalation of memory; it is frank, personal, loving, and addictive: a minor masterpiece of memoir, and an important world-historical record.”
— Cynthia Haven, The Nation