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Sidney Johnson Burris is a prolific writer of essays, criticism, and poetry. His poetry is as influenced by his classical studies in Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit as it is the images of his Southern boyhood. A significant portion of Burris’s critical work has been devoted to the study of Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He has served in various posts at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) since 1986, including as director of the Fulbright College Honors Program. He also co-founded the Tibetan Cultural Institute of Arkansas.
Sidney Burris was born on March 9, 1953, in Danville, Virginia. His father, John Colton Burris, was a salesman and a World War II U.S. Air Force veteran. His mother, Helen Blalock Burris, taught home economics at Averett College. Burris was their only child; he attended public schools in Danville.
In 1975, he received a BA in Latin and classical studies from Duke University and went on to study in Austria at the University of Vienna. In 1982, Burris published the essay “Notes on the Politics of Contemporary Irish Poetry” in the journal Poetry East, commencing a life-long study of Irish writers and writing. He ultimately received his PhD in English from the University of Virginia in 1986, writing a dissertation on Heaney.
He adopted his only child, Samuel Colton Burris, during his first marriage. He married his second wife, Angela Maxwell, in 2006.
Burris’s first volume of poetry, A Day at the Races, was published in 1989 by the University of Utah Press. It was a finalist in the Walt Whitman contest and won the Utah Press Poetry Series competition. His work has twice been selected by Best American Essays as “notable” among essays published in 2002 and 2004. He received the Thomas H. Carter Essay Prize in 1995 for his piece, “Heaney’s Argufying: Subjects that Matter,” in which he discusses whether the aesthetic or the political achievements of a poem should influence judgment of it.
The Poetry of Resistance: Seamus Heaney and the Pastoral Tradition was published in 1990 by the Ohio University Press. His second book of original poetry, Doing Lucretius, was published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2000. He has contributed to several collections of criticism, among them The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. His work has appeared in many prominent American publications, including the Southern Review, the Georgia Review, and the Virginia Quarterly. In 1986, he took the position of assistant professor of English at UA and was promoted to associate professor in 1990 and full professor in 2002.
Burris, a practicing Buddhist in the Tibetan tradition, is the co-founder and co-director of the Tibetan Cultural Institute of Arkansas and co-founder of the Tibetans in Exile Today (TEXT) project. In 2011, he brought the Dalai Lama to UA.
For additional information:
Burris, Sidney. “A Sort of Memoir, A Sort of Review.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Group, 2003.
Polikoff, Rich. “Sidney Johnson Burris.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 1, 2011, pp. 1D, 6D.
Sidney Burris. University of Arkansas, Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English. http://english.uark.edu/Faculty/Sidney_Burris.php (accessed May 19, 2014).
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Last Updated 7/28/2015
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