Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad in 1940 and emigrated to the United States in 1972. He began writing poetry in the 1950s but his works were not published in his native country until the 1990s. Five books of his poetry in Russian were published abroad: Ostanovka v pustyne (1970; revised 1989), Konets prekrasnoi epokhi (1977), Chast' rechi (1977), Novye stansy k Avguste (1983), Uraniia (1984) and Peizazh s navodneniem (1996).

As an émigré he published three books of poetry in English: So Forth (1996), To Urania (1988), and A Part of Speech (1977). On Grief and Reason, his second collection of essays, was published in 1996. His first collection of essays, Less Than One (1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986, and three of his essays have appeared in The Best American Essays. A long essay on Venice was published in English as Watermark in 1992. He is also the author of two plays, Marbles (1989) and Democracy! (1990, 1993).
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and served as Poet Laureate of the United States for 1991 and 1992. He was Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College.

He visited Rome as a guest, fellow, and board member of the American Academy in Rome many times, first in 1981. HIs works on Italy and the classical world include Watermark, an essay on Venice, the play Marbles, and the major poems “Roman Elegies,” “Venetian Stanzas,” “December in Florence,” “Lagoon,” “San Pietro,” and “The Bust of Tiberius.” In 1995, shortly before his death, he proposed to the Mayor of Rome the creation of a Russian Academy in Rome. His letter to the Mayor promoting the idea was published in The New York Review of Books in 1997.

Of himself, Joseph Brodsky said, "I'm Jewish; a Russian poet, an English essayist – and, of course, an American citizen.”

He died in January, 1996, in New York.