Lewis Hyde

Event Details

Title: “The Cultural Commons and Collective Being”
Date: March 21, 2013 
Time: 11:00 AM
Description: In this lecture Lewis Hyde offers a defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is "intellectual property," Hyde turns to America's founders—men like Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson—in search of other ways to imagine the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he ends up describing is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve. For the founders, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities like that of eighteenth-century science. And so did the flourishing of public persons, the very actors whose "civic virtue" brought the nation into being. The lecture elaborates especially this final point, that we need to understand the creative self in its collectivity rather than its individuality, and illustrates the case with examples ranging from Benjamin Franklin's refusal to patent his own inventions to the young Bob Dylan's acknowledged debts to the American folk tradition.
Location: Leonard


Lewis Hyde was born in Boston in 1945 and educated at the universities of Minnesota and Iowa. His much reprinted essay "Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking" (1975) grew out of his experiences as an alcoholism counselor. He has also worked as an electrician and a carpenter to support himself while writing.Short Biography

His edition of the selected poems of the Nobel Prize-winning Spanish writer Vicente Aleixandre was published by Harper & Row in 1979. His 1983 book, The Gift, is an inquiry into the situation of creative artists in a commercial society. He has edited the essays of Henry D. Thoreau and a volume of critical responses to Allen Ginsberg's poetry. Milkweed Editions has published a book of his poems, This Error is the Sign of Love. His most recent book about art and culture, Trickster Makes This World, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1998.

Hyde has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1991 he was made a MacArthur Fellow. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including the Kenyon Review, the American Poetry Review, the Paris Review, and the Nation.

For six years Hyde taught writing at Harvard University where, in his last year, he was director of the creative writing faculty. He has taught at Kenyon College since 1989 where he is currently the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. He and his wife, Patricia Vigderman, divide their time between Gambier, Ohio and Cambridge, Mass.