Joseph Brodsky, Nobel laureate, dies aged 55

 

THE Soviet emigre Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel Prize winning poet once sentenced to hard labour, died of a heart ailment yesterday in the US, where he had lived in exile for more than 20 years.

Brodsky, the 1987 Nobel laureate in literature, died at his New York home with his wife and child by his side, said Roger Straus, his publisher at Farrar Straus and Giroux. He was 55. Brodsky's mother was flying to New York from Russia, Straus added.

Brodsky shot to prominence at the age of 23 when he received a five year sentence for hard labour in the frozen Archangelsk region of the Soviet Union for writing poetry without academic qualifications. International pressure helped get him home to Leningrad in November 1965 after serving 18 months.

"He is a mass cult figure. For many of his generation he is a god," said Duffield White, professor of Russian at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. White once recalled being mobbed at a Moscow concert when word got out he knew Brodsky.

The British poet Anthony Hecht, who worked on Brodsky's translations, said his work is "at once personal and social, reflecting his detestation of tyranny."

Largely self taught in English and Polish, Brodsky's first volume of poetry in English translation was published in 1973. In 1981 he won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and in 1986 he won a National Book Critics Award for criticism.