Ann Kjellberg’s remarks at the presentation of the Joseph Brodsky Fund at the Cloister of the Madonna dell’Orto, June 7, 2013

Thank you all so much for joining us today.  It is so special for us to be here in Venice with so many friends who have been close to Joseph and a part of this effort for so long.

Almost twenty years ago the idea of the Brodsky fellowships was born here in Italy when Joseph met with Mayor Franscesco Rutelli and proposed the creation of a Russian Academy in Rome. “Italy was a revelation to the Russians,” he wrote in his proposal to the mayor, which he developed in consulation with Misha. “Now it can become the source of their renaissance.” His very funny letter, which covered such matters as meals, office supplies, and Xerox machines, was later published in The New York Review of Books.

For Joseph the notions of art and travel were inseparable: the artist is a person who seeks out new sensations, who shakes himself loose of what is comfortable and familiar, who follows the scent of the ideas that beguile him back through history and across geography.  When movement at last became possible again for his fellow countrymen, he felt urgently called to renew for them the fundamental European journey—the journey to Italy.

When Joseph died a few months later, Maria and his dear friend Masha Vorobiov and I were marching through the dreary formalities of such moments when some functionary asked us to whom mourners should send a donation in lieu of flowers, an American custom. Masha said, “How about the Russian Academy in Rome?,” undeterred by the fact that the Academy did not actually exist.

We scurried around to bring it into existence right then, and the fund’s parents and aunts and uncles were among Joseph’s dearest friends of that time and, some of them, his most cherished Italian Virgils—Maria, Benedetta Craveri, Roberto Calasso, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Robert Silvers, Misha, Isaiah Berlin, Mstsislav Rostropovich. Everyone sensed that a tribute that was in fact a movement rather than a monument was the most fitting one for our beloved friend.  It was Benedetta’s idea to begin the fellowships before we had the building that Joseph had at first envisioned, to bring them to sympathetic institutions in a kind of flying academy, and this agile notion has been the model we have followed ever since, though we would still welcome a palace if one should come our way.  Twenty-two Brodsky fellows have visited Italy, mostly thanks to the donations of Joseph’s many friends and enthusiasts but also, since 2002 and 2011, to two very forward-thinking foundations, the American Trust for Mutual Understanding and the Russian Prokhorov Foundation. In recent years we have begun to get the support of a new, younger generation of lovers of the arts and Russian culture who are drawn to the cosmopolitan, international vision to which the fellowships are committed.  We are so grateful to our friends, old and new, for giving ever new life to an idea that we feel remains a vital one for the sustenance of world culture and a constant reminder of the vitality and questing spirit of our old friend.

Ann Kjellberg is the literary executor of Joseph Brodsky and a founding director, with Maria Brodsky, of the Joseph Brodsky Memorial Fellowship Fund.

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