Press contact: Erin Allen (202) 707-7302; Jo Rasi (202) 707-1733
Public contact: Nancy Groce (202) 707-1744

January 27, 2009 (REVISED January 28, 2009)

Symposium Marks 250th Anniversary of Robert Burns' Birth

To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, in collaboration with the Scottish government as part of its Homecoming Scotland 2009 celebration, will present a free public symposium on Burns’ life and work, as well as his impact on America and American culture.

"Robert Burns at 250: Poetry, Politics and Performance" takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 24 and 25, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave S.E, Washington, D.C. The two-day event is produced in cooperation with the Library’s Center for the Book and the Poetry and Literature Center.

The symposium begins at 3 p.m. on Feb. 24 with a presentation on "Burns, Politics and Politicians" and a talk on "America’s Bard" by Robert Crawford, professor of literature at the University of St. Andrews. Crawford is one of Scotland’s leading poets, a noted literary critic and a widely published scholar. Crawford’s address will be followed by readings of Burns’ poetry and performances of his songs by renowned Scottish scholars and performers Margaret Bennett and Ed Miller, and award-winning Scottish journalist and broadcaster Billy Kay.

The symposium reconvenes at 9:30 a.m. on, Feb. 25, with a panel discussion titled "Burns and His World." Speakers include Nat Edwards, from the National Library of Scotland, who will give an overview of Burns’ life and career; Ted Cowan, University of Glasgow professor of Scottish history, who will compare and contrast "18th Century Scotland and 18th Century America"; and a presentation on "Robert Burns and the Scots Language" by documentarian Billy Kay, author of the influential history of the Scots language, "Scots: The Mither Tongue."

Following lunch, a second panel discussion explores Burns’ relationship to the folk and traditional culture of Scotland. Valentina Bold, head of Scottish studies at University of Glasgow/Dumfries Campus, speaks on "Robert Burns and Scottish Traditional Song." Singer and scholar Margaret Bennett, assisted by folklorist and performer Ed Miller, follows with a lecture and demonstration on "Robert Burns: A Life in Song."

"Poetry, Celebrity and the Public" is the topic of next panel. The Library’s Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Kay Ryan joins Scottish poet Robert Crawford and Myra Sklarew, former president of the Yaddo artist community and professor emerita of literature at American University, to explore the role of poets as "literary lions" in both 18th-century Europe and the contemporary world.

The symposium closes with an overview of Burns materials in the Library of Congress by Stephen Winick of the American Folklife Center, and a discussion titled "Tomorrow’s Bards: Promoting Reading and Literacy in Scotland and the United States." Cate Newton, director of collections development at the National Library of Scotland; Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust; and John Y. Cole, founder and director of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, will explore how reading, cultural literacy and creativity are fostered on both sides of the Atlantic.

More than a poet, Burns (1759-1796) has served as an icon and inspiration for generations of artists, politicians, social activists and cultural reformers throughout the world. Burns began writing poetry and song lyrics at the age of 15. In 1786, he published his first volume of poetry, "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect," in Kilmarnock. The volume was an immediate critical success, and a second edition printed soon thereafter in Edinburgh proved a financial success. In the decade that followed, Burns’ works were published widely in books and periodicals. He contributed to compilations of Scottish songs and ballads, submitting his own original poems as well as verses based on traditional songs and poems collected from folk performers.

A talented poet in Scots and English, Burns was also a dedicated collector of folk songs and tunes, an able musician and a gifted lyricist. He is credited with preserving more than 300 Scottish songs, often setting his own lyrics or traditional lyrics to new or revised tunes. He contributed hundreds of lyrics to publications, such as George Thompson’s "A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice" (1793) and James Johnson’s "The Scots Musical Museum" (1787-1797). Among his best known songs are "Auld Lang Syne," "Scots Wha Hae" and "Flow Gently Sweet Afton."

The event is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Advance registration is strongly suggested. For more program information and to register on-line, visit www.loc.gov/folklife/Symposia/Burns/. For further information, contact Nancy Groce at (202) 707-1744, ngro@loc.gov.

The Library’s holdings include almost 700 works by and about Robert Burns, including some early editions that were published during the poet's lifetime. Burns' impact on luminaries of American culture — including Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. — are also reflected in the Library's extensive holdings.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training.

The Library of Congress, the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, is the world's preeminent reservoir of knowledge, providing unparalleled collections and integrated resources to Congress and the American people. Many of the Library’s rich resources and treasures may also be accessed through the Library’s Web site www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on myLOC.gov.

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PR 09-016
01/27/09
ISSN 0731-3527

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