Joseph Brodsky was born Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky. Brodsky was a Russian-American poet, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Poet Laureate of the United States for 1991-1992.
Brodsky was born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg to a family of a Jewish photographer. In the early childhood he survived the Siege of Leningrad. When he was fifteen, after the eighth grade, Brodsky left school. He worked at a wide variety of jobs, including a hospital, a morgue, a factory, a ship boiler room, and a geological expedition.
Brodsky taught himself English and Polish, acquired deep interest in classical philosophy, religion, mythology, English and American poetry and began writing poetry in 1958. He had no degree in the liberal arts. Later in life he admitted that he picked up books from anywhere he could find them, including even garbage dumps. The young Brodsky was encouraged and influenced by the poet Anna Akhmatova who called some of his verses “enchanting.”
In 1963, he was charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities. A famous excerpt from the transcript of his trial (smuggled to the West):
Judge: "Who has decided that you're a poet? Who has ranked you as a poet? Have you studied poetry at an institution? Have you prepared for a university course where you're taught to write poetry?"
Brodsky: "I don't think poetry comes from an education."
Judge: "Well then, where does it come from?"
Brodsky: "I think that it comes from God."
For his parasitism Brodsky was sentenced to five years of hard labor in internal exile and served 18 months in Archangelsk region. The sentence was commuted in 1965 after prominent Soviet literary figures protested.
As the 1960s Khrushchev Thaw period ended, only four of his poems were published in the Soviet Union. Most of his work has appeared only in the West. On June 4, 1972, Brodsky was exiled and became a U.S. citizen in 1977.
He achieved major successes in his career as an English language poet.
Brodsky died of a heart attack in New York City and was buried at Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice, Italy.