Mural: Angela Barry, the Bermuda College’s Robert Masters, Dr Duranda Greene and, artist Graham Foster—who painted the mural—and Alan Burland. *Photo supplied
Mural: Angela Barry, the Bermuda College’s Robert Masters, Dr Duranda Greene and, artist Graham Foster—who painted the mural—and Alan Burland. *Photo supplied

The life and legacy of a man widely acknowledged to be Bermuda’s greatest literary talent was celebrated at the opening on Thursday of the Brian Burland Centre for Research at The Bermuda College.

The Centre was created just over a year after Mr Burland’s daughter and literary executor, Dr Susan Burland, donated his novels and literary papers to the Bermuda College.

Mr Burland, who died in 2010 at the age of 78, is the first Bermudian novelist to have received international acclaim for his work. 

He was the author of eight published novels, a children’s book and countless unpublished works, all of which are now housed at the Centre.  

The Centre, located at the Bermuda College library, was created to preserve and promote Mr Burland’s works and to encourage aspiring Bermudian writers. 

Photographs of Mr Burland are on the walls of the Centre’s reading room, where his novels and mementoes of his life and career are on display.  

A four-minute audio recording, narrated by Leo Mills, provides a background to the Centre.  

One wall of the reading room is dominated by a mural painted by Graham Foster especially for the Centre. 

It features imagery from four novels, The Sailor and the Fox, which was slated to be a Hollywood movie, Flight of the Cavalier, A Fall From Aloft, and Stephen Decatur, the Devil and the Endymion.

Mr Foster said prior to receiving the commission, he, like many Bermudians, had never read any of Mr Burland’s novels. 

He said he hoped his mural would encourage people to read them. 

“I would like to see Brian
become a household name,”
he said. 

The many tributes paid to Mr Burland at the opening gave a portrait of a committed writer whose decision to abandon a secure position in the family business, now BCM McAlpine, to become a writer had come at great personal cost. 

His first novel, A Fall From Aloft, was published in 1968. Other novels followed and won critical praise on both sides of the Atlantic. 

He became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1979. Things began to go downhill after 1985 when he had difficulty finding a publisher.

Struggles

His nephew Alan Burland said Brian Burland had his struggles with alcoholism. 

When he returned to Bermuda after years of living in the US, his house had gone into foreclosure. He spent his last years in Bermuda, and had to live with debilitating Huntington’s Disease. 

Alan Burland said: “Brian’s life was complex. He was an amazing author but his family life was complex... he married three times. He married one wife twice.”

He hailed “his rich depth of his literary talent” and his willingness to write about difficult subjects. 

“He spoke about race in a brutally honest way,” Alan Burland said. 

Alan Burland also said that Brian Burland, who was a member of the Baha’i faith, would have been delighted by the creation of the centre and by the diverse group of people, family, friends and supporters, who attended the opening.

Angela Barry, co-chair of the Burland Collection Committee, described Brian Burland as “the greatest writer never to be known or acknowledged in the country of his birth, his beloved Bermuda.”

She said: “Tonight we celebrate his life and his achievement and, in the opening of this centre, we conclude Phase One of our project. But this is only the beginning. 

“To fulfill our mandate to ‘promote the writer’s work and to encourage other writers’, the next phase takes us into a future where this Centre is an integral, functioning and sustainable resource of the College, the community and beyond. 

“Our current and projected plans include but are not limited to the republication of his work, the integration of this Centre into the curriculum of the College, the digitization of much of the archive, including a large collection of Brian’s taped lectures on Creative Writing and the creation of the Burland Summer Scholar programme where graduate students use the archive for dissertations at the Masters and doctoral levels.”