Exploring our literary history
The Bermuda College will offer a rare glimpse into Bermudian literature with a new course starting this month.
Bermuda College lecturer and author Angela Barry will teach Studies in Bermudian Literature.
“We want to encourage participation in this groundbreaking course,” said Ms Barry. “This is a course that has been on the books at the Bermuda College for 15 years, but has only run once or twice. It was started by Alison Masters who also set up some of the very significant courses [on] Caribbean and African literature.”
The course will look at writers across the span of Bermuda’s history, starting with early perceptions of the Island in the 17th century and Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, to Mary Prince in the 19th century. It will end with a look at current young adult and children’s writers, and spoken word work by creative collectives such as Chewstick.
“We would probably not have thought of running this course if a wonderful thing hadn’t happened to the college in March of this year,” said Ms Barry. “The family of the late Bermudian writer Brian Burland endowed the college with 22 boxes of literary papers and materials from his estate. We were given this material with two conditions the first that the material be preserved, and secondly that it be promoted.”
She said that although Mr Burland was one of Bermuda’s most accomplished writers, he was not well known in Bermuda. He lived in the United States for many years, and when he returned to the Island in the 1990s he was not in good health.
“Despite his health, he was still very active in trying to encourage writers in Bermuda,” said Ms Barry. “He had a mission to push forward the emerging writers that he found here in the 1990s up until he died. In the spirit of that we decided one of the first things we would do to honour what we had been given would be to put on a course about Bermudian literature and to feature Brian Burland’s work. That is what this course will do.”
Towards the end of the course, students will read some of Mr Burland’s books.
“Brian Burland came from an affluent white Bermudian family,” said Ms Barry. “As a young man he was expected to join the family business, and did for a while. His passion was writing and he was exceptionally talented and quite fearless. He took on issues that people in Bermuda are only now starting to talk about. It could have been one of the reasons his success was so limited in Bermuda. He seemed to strongly empathise with the black Bermudian experience. There are all sorts of reasons for that and he was quite critical of the aspects of white Bermudian society. He did not blush about writing about sex between the races as well.”
Mr Burland was successful enough to be made a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature, a high honour, and his work was praised by playwright Noel Coward. His book ‘The Sailor and the Fox’ was considered as a movie starring Sean Connery in the 1970s, but production was cancelled at the last minute.
Another book to be featured in the course is ‘The Painted Lily’ by British writer Amy J Baker in 1921. The story is about a woman of colour who moves from the town of St George to the City of Hamilton and passes as white. The book is so extremely rare that Ms Barry had to photocopy a copy of the book.
“There is no trace of this book, and yet it is an important thing for us to know about and to read,” said Ms Barry. “It is important to know how that issue of race was seen at that point.”
She said it was important for Bermudians to study Bermudian literature to gain better understanding of Bermudian culture and themselves.
“I am hoping that the experience of going through literature in Bermuda from 1609 to 2012 will be a rich experience for the students who take it,” she said. “I am hoping to inspire English teachers to come. I would like to invite them specifically to be part of this so they can go back to their classrooms with something new that they can give to their students. I would also like to target people who are currently writing. It is important for people to see not just what they are doing but to see themselves as part of a whole. They might even be surprised at how some of those dominant themes that were there in Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’ have still been repeating themselves, morphing into something slightly different.”
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