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Trailblazing biographer to deliver Pratt Lecture

Ref. No. 8

DATE:     Sept. 17, 2001
SUBJECT:     Trailblazing biographer to deliver Pratt Lecture

Note to editors:

One of Canada's most eminent biographers, Phyllis Grosskurth, O.C., will deliver Memorial University's Pratt Lecture on Friday, Sept. 21, 2001. Prof. Grosskurth has written a series of major biographies of such figures as Lord Byron, Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, John Addington Symons, and Leslie Stephens. Her lecture is entitled Who is killing Biography? The lecture, which is free and open to the public, begins at 8 p.m. in the Reid Theatre, located in the Arts and Administration Building on Memorial's St. John's campus.

Born in Toronto in the 1920s, Prof. Grosskurth did her undergraduate degree in the Faculty of Arts and Science, studying English literature at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She finished the degree in 1960 and went to the University of London for her doctoral program, where her thesis was on a 19th-century British writer named John Addington Symonds.

In the course of her research Grosskurth found Symond's previously unknown autobiography, which revealed he was a homosexual, and turned her thesis into a book. When the biography was published it sparked controversy by overturning previous assumptions about one of Britain's esteemed men of letters, but it also established her writing career. In 1965 the book won the Governor General's award for non-fiction, and she was just named an officer of the Order of Canada for the almost four decades of distinguished work that followed it. The attention garnered by the Symonds biography led to her being asked in 1965 to join the English department at University of Toronto's oldest federated college, University College. The department hired her along with two other women-the first female academics hired in the department's history.

In the ensuing years Prof. Grosskurth combined teaching, which she took great pleasure in, with biography writing. In her mind, the two were closely linked. "I always loved being at the university because it was a learning experience, and writing biography is learning." Her subjects ranged from Freud and sex researcher Havelock Ellis to the poet Byron. They are all, in her words, "idiosyncratic subjects" that interested her, and they all had the appeal of being outcasts in some sense.

Professor Grosskurth, now a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, frequently reviews for The New York Review of Books and The Globe and Mail and lectures on the history of psychoanalysis and the art of biography.

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For further information, please contact Ivan Muzychka, manager, Memorial University News Service, 737-8665.

 

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