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Robert Bringhurst

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Nationality  Canadian
Name  Robert Bringhurst

Role  Poet
Spouse  Jan Zwicky
Robert Bringhurst Robert Bringhurst Biography Robert Bringhurst39s Famous
Born  October 16, 1946 (age 69) (1946-10-16) Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Residence  Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada
Occupation  Poet, typographer, writer
Education  University of British Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Utah
Awards  Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada
Books  The Elements of Typogr, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: Th, The Solid Form of Languag, Everywhere Being is Dancing, The Tree of Meaning: Languag
Similar People  Jan Zwicky, Jan Tschichold, Ellen Lupton, Tim Lilburn, Warren Chappell

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Robert Bringhurst OC (born 16 October 1946) is a Canadian poet, typographer and author. He has translated substantial works from Haida and Navajo and from classical Greek and Arabic. He wrote The Elements of Typographic Style, a reference book of typefaces, glyphs and the visual and geometric arrangement of type. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in June 2013.


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He lives on Quadra Island, near Campbell River, British Columbia (approximately 170 km northwest of Vancouver) with his wife, Jan Zwicky, a poet and philosopher.

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Robert Bringhurst The 2013 4th Annual Galiano Literary Festival Galiano

Bringhurst was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Alberta, and British Columbia. He studied architecture, linguistics, and physics at MIT, and comparative literature and philosophy at the University of Utah. He holds a BA from Indiana University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the Fraser Valley, and in 2016 was awarded a Doctor of Letters (hon. causa) by Simon Fraser University.

Robert Bringhurst Robert Bringhurst The Poetry Foundation

Bringhurst taught literature, art history and history of typography at several universities and held fellowships from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the American Philosophical Society, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Literary career

His 1992 publication, The Elements of Typographic Style was praised as “the finest book ever written about typography” by the type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. A collection of his poetry, The Beauty of the Weapons, was short-listed for a Governor General’s Award in 1982, and A Story as Sharp as a Knife, his work on Haida symbolism, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 2000. Bringhurst won the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence in 2005, an award which recognizes British Columbia writers who have contributed to the development of literary excellence in the Province.

Work in Haida

Bringhurst has a strong interest in linguistics, translating works from classical Greek, Arabic, Navajo, and, most significantly, Haida. His interest in Haida culture stems from his friendship and close association with the influential Haida artist Bill Reid, with whom he wrote The Raven Steals the Light in 1984, among several other significant collaborations. It was this friendship that in 1987 “started Bringhurst on the philanthropic endeavour of recording the Haida canon”. The result of this labour was a trilogy of works collectively titled Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers. The essays in its first volume, A Story As Sharp As Knife, and particularly its ninth chapter, "The Prosody of Meaning," constitute an important contribution to the understanding of the poetics of oral literatures.

His translations from Haida have been viewed as an attempt to preserve the Haida culture, which in 1991 was considered part of a group "likely to be lost unless strong efforts are made very quickly to perpetuate them". The Haida translation has caused some controversy. Bringhurst was accused of academic exploitation and cultural appropriation. In 2001, the CBC radio program Ideas aired a two part series called “Land to Stand On.” The series' first episode featured “a string of Haida claiming [...] that Bringhurst's work is ‘about keeping us in our place,’ written ‘without asking us,’" and "replete with ‘serious errors twisting it into the poetry that he wants’”.

In 1999, the Globe and Mail published a report on the Haida reaction to A Story As Sharp As A Knife by Adele Weder. Weder's piece was later criticized for citing only two Haida sources, claiming they could speak for the entire Haida community, and was described as an "inflammatory article ... not likely to be mistaken for exemplary journalism". The Globe and Mail published Bringhurst's response, which was later called "considerably more measured".

In 2001, Jeff Leer reviewed A Story As Sharp As A Knife saying Bringhurst has neither formal linguistic education nor significant experience with spoken Haida, and doubting Bringhurst's ability to translate from Haida. Leer's review compared Bringhurst's work unfavourably to Enrico's Skidegate Haida Myths and Histories, and referred to the Weder review as an authoritative source. Leer's publisher, the International Journal of American Linguistics, retracted the review and apologized to Bringhurst for publishing:

some unfounded statements from another author that might be read to impugn Prof. Bringhurst's qualifications or integrity. The Journal's sole intention in publishing the book review was to bring an important work by a well-respected scholar to the attention of its readers. [...] it was not the Journal's intent to transmit erroneous perceptions of Prof. Bringhurst's training or scholarship.

Most academic discussion and recognition of Bringhurst's work in Haida has been positive. Linguist Dell Hymes wrote a review of the Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers trilogy (of which A Story As Sharp As A Knife is part) in Language in Society, praising the trilogy. He said it "should become a classic reference point" for Haida scholars in the future. In 2004, Bringhurst won the Edward Sapir Prize for Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers. The committee giving the award was headed by Leanne Hinton, an expert in American Indian languages, and chair of the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Bringhurst has been defended by Margaret Atwood, who says that “territorial squabbling cannot obscure the fact that Bringhurst’s achievement is gigantic as well as heroic”, and that far from appropriating native voices, Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers “restores to life two exceptional poets we ought to know”. The CBC documentary was attacked in print for relying "entirely on the fallacy, convenient to the producers, that Bringhurst had not consulted with any Haida". Bringhurst with the help of Bill Reid had spent the better part of the previous decade working with members of the Haida community. People from other indigenous Canadian communities, such as late Cree elder Wilna Hodgson, CM, SOM, have also defended Bringhurst. In a letter to the editor of Books In Canada, she called A Story As Sharp As A Knife "a gift to First Nation people across [Canada]", and a true "masterpiece in the growing genre of spoken texts". In her opinion, Bringhurst's "efforts are clearly informed with the kind of integrity that all translators might strive to emulate".

Bringhurst says that "culture is not genetic" and that he pays respect to Native American languages like Haida by allowing works from those languages to be appreciated as art by as wide an audience as possible. He says he always intended his translations to be "[exercises] in literary history, not in the interpretation of present-day Haida culture".


Robert Bringhurst Wikipedia