* Bermuda Sun file photo. In his element: Brian Burland discusses books.
* Bermuda Sun file photo. In his element: Brian Burland discusses books.
Brian Burland was that rarest of breeds in Bermuda - a native son whose novels have been published and praised on both sides of the Atlantic.

He was the author of nine novels. He was also a poet and the author of a much-loved children's book, St. Nicholas and the Tub, which was dedicated to... "the children of Bermuda-black, brown and just plain suntanned".

Mr. Burland died last week at the age of 78. He'd had Huntington's Disease for many years and was a patient at the Sylvia Richardson Rest Home.

He was a prolific writer whose greatest literary successes occurred during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

All of his works are out of print and he remains largely unrecognized in his homeland. But through the ups and downs of his career, Mr. Burland has been a beacon of inspiration to a small and devoted cadre of Bermudian writers who seek to follow in his footsteps and others who have admired him for the sheer size of his talent.

He is the first Bermudian novelist to have achieved success on the international scene. No other Bermudian to date has matched his output.

Mr. Burland was born in Bermuda on April 23, 1931, and fittingly for a man who was determined to be a writer from an early age, he shares a birthday with William Shakespeare.

He was a son of Gordon Burland, the founder of construction company Burland, Conyers and Marirea, now BCM McAlpine, and worked in the family business as a young man.

But construction was not his cup of tea and he soon went his own way. At the age of 26, he visited Jamaica where he was introduced to Noel Coward. He built up enough nerve to show the playwright a short story he had written. Coward was impressed.

The first of his novels to make it into print was A Fall from Aloft, which was published in 1968. Mr. Burland had attended Saltus before being shipped off to the England to attend boarding school shortly before he turned 13. The Atlantic crossing during the Second World War was terrifying and his experiences are evoked in that book.

Challenging themes

In addition to his themes of war and colonialism, Mr. Burland has been praised for tackling issues of race. The Sailor and the Fox was inspired by the 1959 Theatre Boycott. It's ostensibly about a boxing match, but with a young black boxer preparing to duke it out with an old white boxer at Number One Shed, it's also a metaphor for a system that is about to be thrown on the ropes.

His close friend writer and musician Ronald Lightbourne has written: "Read it if you want to know what segregated Bermuda felt like 50 years ago."

The Sailor and the Fox was to have been made into a film but Sean Connery, whom the producer Quinn Martin wanted in the title role, wasn't interested, and the project died on the vine.

Other novels with a racial theme include Surprise, whose main character is a black sailor who flees Bermuda with his wife after he is flogged for being uppity. Mr. Burland is a white Bermudian from a family of privilege who was raised in segregated Bermuda, but he has spoken frequently of his African blood.

His other titles include A Few Flowers for St. George, Undertow and Love is a Durable Fire. In 1979, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He also taught at several colleges in the U.S., mainly Connecticut, where he lived for many years.

But literary success eluded him after the 1990s and he returned home. Local honours include the Bermuda Arts Council's Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2001, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs honoured him with an award for children's and young adult literature. In 2007, the same department established The Brian Burland Prize for Fiction.

Mr. Burland's survivors include his children Susan, Anne, William and Benjamin, his brothers John and Arthur, sister Rosamond Belfrage and two grandchildren. He was a member of the Baha'i faith and was buried yesterday at St. Paul's Church, Paget, following a Baha'i memorial service at the church hall.

Mr. Burland once expressed regret that few Bermudians had read his work.

It was a sentiment echoed by Canadian literature professor Dr. Sandra Campbell in the winter 2008 edition of The Bermudian magazine.

Writing on the eve of Bermuda's 400th anniversary, she said it was time for Bermuda, "to take fuller and prouder measure of one of her greatest writers, whose literary genius has thrown light on Bermuda in ways that Shakespeare never dreamed of. Brian Burland's work deserves no less."

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