Robert Bringhurst Lecture in Edmonton

Tuesday, June 7, at 5:00 pm
Room 2-20, Fine Arts Building
Edmonton, AB

“The Grammar of the Hand”

Written language is often described as a stream of arbitrary symbols and it is often made to look very arbitrary indeed. But writing, like speech, has a physiological basis. Writing, like speech, is codified gesture, rooted in the body as well as in the mind and the social milieu. Each of these contributes to its structure and its form. While it transcribes the language of the mouth, the hand speaks an intricate but silent language of its own.


Robert Bringhurst has published more than fifteen books of poetry. With Doris Shadbolt, Geoffrey James and Russell Keziere, he coedited Visions: Contemporary Art in Canada (1983). With Haida sculptor Bill Reid, he is coauthor of The Raven Steals the Light, reissued in 1996 with a preface by Claude Levi-Strauss. The Black Canoe (1992), Bringhurst’s study of Reid’s sculpture, is a classic of Native American art history. Design schools and publishers throughout North America and Europe rely on his book The Elements of Typographic Style (3rd ed., 2004), which has now been translated into half a dozen languages.

In 1999, Bringhurst published a groundbreaking study of a Native American oral literature, A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999). Two volumes of translation have now followed: Nine Visits to the Mythworld (nine mythtexts dictated by the Haida poet Ghandl) and Being in Being: The Collected Works of Skaay of the Qquuna Qiighawaay. These three works constitute the trilogy Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers, chosen in 2004 as Literary Editor’s Book of the Year by the Times of London. His other recent books include Ursa Major (2003), a polyphonic work for six speaking voices, written in English, Latin, Greek and Cree, and The Solid Form of Language: An Essay on Writing and Meaning (2004).

Bringhurst has been a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, writer-in-residence at the universities of Edinburgh, Winnipeg, and Western Ontario, and Philips Fund Research Fellow at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia. He delivered the American Printing History Association’s annual Lieberman Lecture for 1993 at the Clark Library, UCLA; Trent University’s Ashley Lectures on Native American oral literature in 1994; the University of Iowa’s Brownell Lecture on the History of the Book for 1997; the University of British Columbia’s Garnett Sedgewick Memorial Lecture for 1998 and the 1998 Georg Svensson Lecture at the Royal Library in Stockholm; Wilfrid Laurier University’s annual Laurier Lecture in 2001; the University of Manitoba’s annual Belcourt Lecture in linguistics in 2002; the 30th Anniversary Lecture at the Center for Book Arts, New York, in 2004; and in 2005, the annual Pratt Lecture at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 2004 he was awarded the Edward!

Sapir Prize by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, and in 2005, the British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.

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