Ellendea Proffer Teasley in Cleveland!

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)

You can order the book here, and while you are at it, the newly expanded edition of my dad’s memoirs is here.

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 Library525 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.

LSA Magazine feature

Reconsidering Russia podcast

Commentary Magazine

The Nation

Russia Beyond the Headlines

London Review of Books

The Kenyon Review

“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

A Tribute in Ann Arbor

I could do without another trip to Ann Arbor. I may have been born there, but the town I knew is now gone. In fact, just about everyone I once knew there has left. My immediate family bailed, and the only one of us left is my dad being buried there. The University of Michigan has played a big part in our lives, however. Not just on my side of the family, but my husband’s too. I love when we get crap in Cleveland for using Ben’s alumni credit card if we go out, “you’re pretty brave to be using that in these parts” someone will say. When this happens I want to scream, Look buster, at least my family all went to or taught at UofM and were on actual sports teams! And do I give a crap about every Wolverines game? No! I don’t. At least you have to be smart to attend school in Ann Arbor! Ohio State fans are almost as bad as Browns fans, which are almost as bad as Red Sox fans!

I will say, I did see some “WalMart Wolverines” fans pushing their kids in a stolen shopping cart down the sidewalk in front of the athletics building, so I guess you can’t avoid these people no matter where you live in the US.

But I digress.

My friend Mike who I hadn’t really seen since about 1995 (a local hero who caught the serial rapist in Ann Arbor around 1994 after he got in his cab) came and walked around his old stomping grounds. He and Ben marveled at all of the changes, and yet the odd things that hadn’t changed. The loser frat is still the loser frat, and the staff at The Earle are still the same after all these years. The art museum has expanded, and the library now has state-of-the-art everything. Mike recognized my husband because he said, “I know your eyes”. Amazing, they actually met at a party in the late 80s and he remembered Ben’s eyes.

As expected, the campus has changed in and around downtown so much that everything seems homogenized. The landscaping and common areas leave no room to sit or gather. Benches? Ha! Move along people. It seems getting students about their business and not loitering is the deal. I’m happy that at least my old coffee shop has expanded and it seemed rather lively and people actually talked, as opposed to the last time I was there. Doc Martens, flannel, and mom jeans were the fashion, as well as some familiar hair cuts on the boys that would fit in at Front 242 concert. There were signs posted for Quiddich. Yes, that game from Harry Potter. I have no idea what that entails in the non-wizard world of Ann Arbor but it seems they took recruiting for it very seriously.

the dream of the 90s is alive in the women’s restroom of Espresso Royale
Finally something! “Parking Spot Day” in front of an art gallery
Sure, we'll take some apples
Sure, we’ll take some apples
Used to go here as a kid when my dad bought his cigars. I loved the smell!
Used to go here as a kid when my dad bought his cigars. I loved the smell!
They still carry the cigarette holders I used to sport as a teenager.
They still carry the cigarette holders I used to sport as a teenager.

To see the buildings where I did so many naughty things and ran amok; to see the places my dad used to take me when he wasn’t in class; to sit in the old familiar places. Even my next door neighbor’s house growing up had been re-done, but there I was drinking white wine in the kitchen with her, in the spot where I used to play Maniac Mansion and Oregon Trail because she had a color monitor and the computers at Ardis didn’t. I think we hadn’t seen each other since we were 14 (she’s a great photographer now). Sometime soon after my mom won the MacArthur grant, she once asked my mom, “what’s a grant?” to which my mom leaned over and said, “it’s money from HEAVEN”

This was a weekend that my whole family was together for the first time since I was married 12 years ago. It was also great to see people who had played a part in my life or the life of Ardis Publishers at some point or another. People I hadn’t seen between 12 and 25 years ago — some even longer. I didn’t take a lot of photos or video because I was so distracted the whole time catching up with people. A journalist from Russia was on hand, a former US Ambassador to Russia, former grad students, and so forth. If anything, the weekend proved how awful my Russian has gotten.

ArdisMichigan Proffers1975

There is now an initiative at the university to have a fund in my dad’s name at CREES as well as a fund for grad students who want to study in the department. I hope it gets funded. I think I told someone it was “about fucking time” UofM named something for my dad rather than just the certificate saying it was Carl R. Proffer Day — which by the way, no one at the university seems to remember or know that was even a thing. A wing, or a hallway would be nice too, but hey, what do I know? I’m told these days how good it was I didn’t go into academia in this century because it is a whole different game, and not a very fair one. But in a strange twist, I am actually illustrating the thesis of a former student of my dad (yeah it’s taken her some time to finish), and it’s all about Gogol’s Dead Souls. Trust me, that book is funnier if you know Russians and get the culture there.


I’ve been told recently that my correspondence is very much like my dad. I got a glimpse of this when I saw old letters during an exhibit at the University of Michigan Library years ago. Surprisingly, I have never read a thing either of my parents have wrote or published, and, I have only read two Russian novels. Oh, and a collection of recent short stories called St. Petersburg Noir. That’s it. But hey, I still haven’t gotten around to reading a few things I actually painted the cover art for. What can I say? I’m more interested in memoirs of the British aristocracy, Joan Crawford, and Karl Lagerfeld, than I am in pretty much any type of fiction or essays. One of these days I’ll get around to Widows of Russia, as I certainly saw this book around Ardis and at our house all the time!

Things I took away but that I already knew: I’m a severe underachiever, it took a village to raise me, and I stuck to my guns as far as what I’d do with my life. Because though I might have been a capitalist at a young age charging for drawings as a child, at least I stuck with it.

I’m glad the whole thing didn’t become too much a memorial; everyone was proud no one really cried, and I’m glad it didn’t turn into a “I Liked Carl the Best” contest.  Here are videos of the whole thing. Go on and nerd out!

btw, that’s not quite how my parents met, but that’s okay. I’ve also tried to find a copy of the “Russian Literature is better than Sex” illustration, but alas, there seems to not be one online. I remember that t-shirt well!

A Little Bit About Ardis

I’ve been working on a video pulled from various tapes I shot over the years having to do with the publishing company my parents founded, Ardis Publishers.

I have footage from 1992-1999 (some usable, and some not so much) that I have been digitizing and compiling to be ready in time for the conference in honor of my dad at the University of Michigan this September (he would have been 75). Unfortunately most of the interviews are in Russian and I don’t have time or resources to have them all translated. Some are of friends and some are of writers like Lev Razgon, and Emma Gerstein. But hey, at least Russians will appreciate it. If anything, it is a good history lesson on the various ways the Soviet Union controlled the arts.

Here is one of the few interviews in English I did with my mom back in 1999…