To my best knowledge, I am the only person to have dedicated a book to Carl Proffer – that would be Joseph Brodsky: Conversations.
At the University of Michigan, my path crossed all too briefly with the heroic Carl and Ellendea Proffer, the founders of Ardis Books, the small publishing house that during the 70s and 80s was the largest and finest publisher of Russian literature in the West. The Proffers produced about 40-60 books and journals a year from their Ann Arbor basement … well, I told that story here (“Joseph Brodsky and the courageous couple who brought him to America – Carl and Ellendea Proffer”) and here (“Joseph Brodsky: How the 15-year-old dropout became a university professor”). It’s unlikely that the Russian Nobel laureate would have emigrated to America if Carl had not intercepted him in Vienna, after he was kicked out of the U.S.S.R. in 1972. So it seemed fitting to dedicate my book to the memory of Carl, who died at 46 of a particularly brutal and fast cancer.
Now the University of Michigan is honoring the Proffers’ extraordinary legacy with a symposium September 20 and 21 – read about it here. From the website:
The symposium will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the birth of U-M Professor Carl R. Proffer (1938-84), an outstanding scholar renowned for his books on Gogol and Nabokov. In his brief 46 years Carl Proffer not only contributed tremendously to the field of Russian literature as an author, translator, editor, and publisher, but also put Ann Arbor on the map of Russian literature in perpetuity. In 1971 with his wife Ellendea, also a scholar, author, and translator, he co-founded Ardis which became the foremost Western publisher of Russian and Soviet literature, including reprints and translations of classics as well as works banned by the Soviet authorities. Symposium presenters will explore Ardis Publishers’ consequential role as a citadel of Russian literature and U-M’s rich legacy as a center for the study of dissent in the Soviet Union and as a refuge for Soviet writers, artists, and political dissidents (including Joseph Brodsky, poet-in-residence at U-M, 1972-81).
Carl’s New York Times obituary is here. You are welcome to add your facts, citations, stories, anecdotes, whatever to the new wikipedia entry for Carl here (and the Ardis entry is here). From the wikipedia site:
Ann Arbor became a stop on the Russian literary underground railway, as a stream of prominent writers came to visit Ardis or teach at the university. Proffer mentored numerous émigré writers, arranging for them to go into academia. Proffer made yearly trips to the Soviet Union until 1979, when the publication of the politically controversial anthology Metropol caused him to be banned from the Soviet Union. Diagnosed with cancer in 1982, he would never see Russia again; he died in 1984, at the age of forty-six. He is survived by his wife and four children—Andrew, Christopher, Ian and Arabella.
I didn’t know, however, that Carl’s struggle had been filmed by CBS. The segment is below. And below that, a video on Ardis for any Russian-speakers among the Book Haven readers – Ellendea is featured beginning about 4.45 minutes in.
Someone once said that there oughtta be a statue for the Proffers in Russia – no statue to date, but Ellendea was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 1989.