Poetry News

"Carl and Ellendea Proffer were Russian literature"

By Harriet Staff

At the Moscow Times, John Freedman has a terrific piece remembering the life and work of Carl and Ellendea Proffer and Joseph Brodsky. Freedman begins by discussing Proffer's contribution to publishing unpublishable Soviet literature in the 1970s:

Along with his wife Ellendea C. Proffer, he founded Ardis Publishers in the early 1970s. This was a case of someone taking the idea of a publishing "house" quite literarily. The Proffers began printing unpublishable Soviet and Russian literature at home and selling it by mail. Here you could read the latest stories, novels and poems by contemporary writers Joseph Brodsky, Vasily Aksyonov and Andrei Bitov, to say nothing of banned works by Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Bulgakov, Nikolai Erdman and many others from the early Soviet period. By the late 1970s I was unloading as much of my meager paychecks on books from Ardis as I was on records by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and the Kinks.

He goes on to describe Proffer's efforts to secure a position at the University of Michigan for Brodsky after he was "allowed" to emigrate: "Proffer wasted no time and set the poet up with a job. He convinced the University of Michigan to grant Brodsky the status of poet in residence, the first writer in 30 years to have that honor at the university. His only predecessor was Robert Frost."

There are many more anecdotes to savor after the jump.

Originally Published: March 21st, 2012