Robert Bringhurst bigraphy, stories - Translators

Robert Bringhurst : biography

October 16, 1946 -

Robert Bringhurst is a Canadian poet, typographer and author. Bringhurst has translated substantial works from Haida and Navajo, as well as 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 lives on Quadra Island, near Campbell River, British Columbia (approximately 170 km northwest of Vancouver) with his wife Jan Zwicky, a poet and philosopher.


Born in Los Angeles, California, he was raised in Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Alberta, and British Columbia. Bringhurst 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 a MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. In 2006, he was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Fraser Valley.Russell (2006).

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 type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones."Frequently Asked Questions". A collection of his poetry, The Beauty of the Weapons was shortlisted 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”.Richler (2001). The result of this labour was a trilogy of works collectively titled Masterworks of the Classical Haida Mythtellers.

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".Kinkade (1991). The Haida translation has caused some controversy. Bringhurst was accused of academic exploitation and cultural appropriation.Bradley (2007). 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 (1999). 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".Bradley (2007) 895. The Globe and Mail published Bringhurst's response,Bringhurst "Since when" (1999). which was later called "considerably more measured".Bradley (2007) 896.

In 2001, Jeff Leer reviewed A Story As Sharp As A Knife saying Bringhurst has neither formal linguistic educationLeer (2000). nor significant experience with spoken Haida,Leer (2000), 576. 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:

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