Brodsky Among Us: “I cannot say that I enjoyed writing this book, it was torn out of me.”


Carl Proffer snapped a photo of Joseph Brodsky with Ellendea outside Leningrad’s Transfiguration Cathedral in 1970. (Photo: Casa Dana)

The Kenyon Review wandered into the Cleveland Public Library and learned that Ellendea Proffer Teasley, will be speaking there at 6 p.m. on October 2. She is the author of Brodsky Among Usa memoir of the time she and her husband, the late Carl Proffer, spent with the great Russian poet and Nobel prizewinner, Joseph Brodsky.

Eminent translator Viktor Golyshev, Ellendea Proffer Teasley, and critic Anton Dolin at standing-room only event. (Photo: Casa Dana)

The Proffers, back in the 1971, launched Ardis, to publish the best of Russian literature when the Soviet government would not. Ardis is a legend in Russia, and Ellendea spoke at standing-room-only events throughout Russia when her book was published in Russian translation by Corpus in 2015. Now it’s in English.

So Laura Maylene Walter of The Kenyon Review decided to run a short interview with the fascinating author and publisher (we’ve written about her here and here and here, among other places). Two excerpts below:

The Russian publication of Brodsky Among Us has been described as a “sensation.” Can you describe the book’s reception in Russia and how that reception aligned with your expectations? More generally, how would you compare the Russian and American publishing experiences?

In Russia, I am a somewhat famous figure due to the books published by Ardis Publishers from 1971-2002, when the company ceased to exist. … As I was writing the Brodsky memoir, a glossy Moscow magazine sent someone to interview me in California. They asked what I was working on now, and I told them it was a memoir about Brodsky.

Signing books at the Dostoevsky Library (Photo: Casa Dana)

Immediately upon publication of that interview I got calls and emails from Russian publishers. Luckily Corpus Publishers wanted the book and offered to have a famous translator do it, Viktor Golyshev, who happened to be an old friend of Brodsky’s. They translated and published this book incredibly quickly, and it became a bestseller even before I went for a PR tour in 2015.

I expected nothing because Russian audiences are not usually interested in what an American might say about their most famous poet, but it was standing room only at the events. I had a brilliant PR team and a wonderful publisher, so all of that was a wonderful surprise. The surprise for the Russian audiences was that despite the fact that I have no Russian background, I spoke in Russian. . .

The American story was very different. Since the memoir is short, deeply personal, and not meant as a biography, this presented marketing problems. Many well-known literary people read it in manuscript and told me they stayed up all night reading it, but I did not find a publisher until 2016, and the book came out this year with Academic Studies Press. Some of the problem is that I am as not as well-known here now, and certainly Brodsky is not the incredible star here he is in Russia.


On Russian TV with Ksenia Sobchak (Photo: Casa Dana)

What was the most challenging part of writing Brodsky Among Us? What part of the process did you find most enjoyable or affirming?

I cannot say that I enjoyed writing this book, it was torn out of me. What I enjoyed were the Russian audiences in 2015 and in April of this year. They waited in long lines to get their books signed and thanked me for existing. This was all deeply moving, especially since the audiences tended to be young. Besides being their favorite poet, Brodsky is a model of how to withstand oppression, among many other things, I think.

You and your late husband founded Ardis Publishers in 1971 to publish Russian literature. How did that experience inform your later writing and publishing ventures?

In order to write this book I had to live a life split between Russian and America, so without Ardis many things would be unthinkable. That I became friends with Nadezhda Mandelstam, Nabokov, Aksyonov, Brodsky, and many others was the gift of this work. I am the last person alive who had dinner with Borges, Nabokov, and Brodsky. This seems amazing to me.

Read the rest here.

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