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Island voices

By Janet Harron

Dr. J. Edward (Ted) Chamberlin, scholar, storyteller, teacher, writer, witness among Aboriginal Peoples and across cultures, will deliver the annual Pratt Lecture on Thursday, March 26.

His lecture is titled The Snarl Around Our Dory: The Long Line of Island Traditions. The title phrase of the lecture is from the poem The Fog by E.J. Pratt.

The title sets the stage for what will be a discussion of the legacy of Newfoundland and Labrador, of the island and coastal peoples around the world, and of the very important connection between Newfoundland and Ireland.

“I will probably shuttle between real and imagined representations, or the ways in which conditions are expressed in literatures as well as livelihoods; and I will be taking up the relationships between subsistence and sovereignty (to use economic and political terms) or fate and free will (to pick up the philosophic and poetic traditions) and how their interdependence becomes part of the life of islanders,” said Dr. Chamberlin.

“But there is no wilderness quite like the sea, nor any domestic life quite like that of an islander, so islands will be at the centre of my talk; and the importance of boats will come in, as it has into the lives of island and coastal peoples for thousands of years.”

Dr. Chamberlin is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. He has worked internationally in connection with aboriginal land claims and toward honoring oral testimony and oral cultures, and he is an energetic and articulate advocate for the importance of people's stories of themselves, whatever form those stories take.

Within his lecture, Dr. Chamberlin said he plans to keep returning to the stories and songs that are such an important part of the heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Professor Robert Finley, chair of the Pratt Committee, said the Department of English Language and Literature is eagerly looking forward to Dr. Chamberlin’s visit.

“We are extremely happy to have Dr. Chamberlin as this year’s Pratt lecturer; his interests are so pointed for much of the community here — between his engagement with oral and island culture, story, song, Irish and Native traditions, poetry. He says, ‘We need to understand our stories because our lives depend on it.’ There is a real urgency to what he means by this which I think will resonate especially powerfully here in this community, itself so rich in stories.”

The Pratt Lecture is sponsored by the Dean of Arts and the Department of English Language and Literature and is named for Newfoundland poet E.J. Pratt.

Past Pratt lecturers include Northrop Frye, Ursula LeGuin and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney.

Dr. Chamberlin will deliver the 2009 Pratt Lecture on Thursday March 26 at 8 p.m., in the Inco Innovation Centre, room IIC-02001. The lecture is free and open to the public. Free parking is available in lots 15 and 18. Reserved seating is available for those with special needs. A reception will follow the lecture in the lower concourse of the Inco Building.