"What links my different interests, in art and science, in the big picture of life on earth and the small details of one person's life? The more I learn, the more I'm amazed at how much we can learn, discover and create, how much there always is to learn and discover--including about what we thought we knew--and how much new room we find to create in new ways. We make mistakes, and we die. But the cosmos and the world and we make so much--and in a sense none of it ever dies so long as it has been."


It was as a 12-year old boy, re-shelving books in his parent’s Palmerston North book shop, that Brian Boyd first met the works of Russian-American author Vladimir Nabokov. He secreted a copy of Lolita and while he read it, he admits that he didn’t quite ‘get it’. A few years later, he found Pale Fire in the public library and reading that, he says, was "the most exciting literary experience of my life."  Since then, Brian, who arrived in New Zealand from Belfast, Northern Ireland, at age 5, has become the world’s expert on Nabokov and himself a distinguished professor of English.


Brian came to Palmerston North at age 9 from Foxton Beach, which had neither a public library nor a bookshop, and a primary school library with little more than school journals and even those accessible only rarely. His parents bought a dairy at the corner of Cook and Ferguson Streets, where from the age of 9 he processed the shop’s magazine orders, reading all the magazines along the way. He biked regularly to the public library’s children’s section, then in Ashley Street, and learned to research at the Monrad school library and later the combined adults’ and children’s sections of the Public Library, which had moved to crowded quarters on the corner of Fitzherbert Avenue. When he was 12 his parents bought the Broadway Bookshop, partly to satisfy his passion for reading. He learned who some of the writers most worth reading were in the Palmerston North Boys High School library, run lovingly by Head of English Merv Nixon, and especially in the glass-cased Sixth Form section, which would be unlocked for younger readers eager to devour its more demanding and daring fiction. He combed the lending library in his parents’ shop, prowled Bennetts’ academic section on the first floor of its Broadway shop (where he discovered Popper), then run by Bruce McKenzie, and roamed the new Public Library on Main Street (where he discovered European literature and philosophy as well as then-Palmerstonian Joy Cowley), sometimes talking to his friend Ian Matheson, already in his early 20s on his way to becoming City Archivist. By his last years at school Brian would also explore the academic bookshop that had opened up on the southern edge of the Square, and would bike out to Massey to marvel at the crowded stacks of its libraries.


Brian’s work has been published in 17 languages and has won awards on four continents. He has written on American, Brazilian, English, Greek, New Zealand, and Russian literature, from epics to comics, and on art and science. He identifies four main areas to his work: the first and most obvious, novelist Vladimir Nabokov; the second Shakespeare; the third literature and art, evolution and cognition, and, more generally, literature, art, and science; and finally, philosopher of science Karl Popper.


Brian is the author of the acclaimed two-volume biography, Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years (1990) and Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (1991); Nabokov’s Ada: The Place of Consciousness and Nabokov’s Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery. His most recent book on the author, Stalking Nabokov: Selected Essays, was published in 2011.


His other works include annotations to Ada, a project he began in 1993 and continues on ADAonline. At the current rate, he predicts, he might finish this by 2030!


Brian edited Nabokov’s fiction and memoirs for Library of America, and also Nabokov’s Butterflies: Unpublished and Uncollected Writings; Speak, Memory; Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry; Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade.  He is co-editor, with Olga Voronina, of Letters to Véra, due to be published in 2013.


Brian’s other credits include Words That Count: Essays on Early Modern Authorship in Honor of MacDonald P. Jackson (2004); On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction and the co-edited Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader in 2010. Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a companion to On the Origin of Stories, was published in 2012.


He is currently working on a biography of the philosopher Karl Popper which is funded by a Marsden Fellowship.

"I discovered who to read, and how to research, and the writers I wanted to write about, in Palmerston North. I remember coming to Palmerston North from Foxton Beach on a purple-and-gray Madge Motors bus (its name immortalized by Barry Humphries in Edna Everage's hapless friend), and being awed by the vast city looming over me, or so it felt, when I stepped off the bus. After I moved to town at 9 years old, its proportions shrank as I grew. The schools (West End, Monrad, Boys' High), the friends, the escapades, the libraries and bookshops where I loitered, the stages where I acted and argued, the teachers and generous mentors: they all constitute more than some of the sum of me--a very sunny “some,” looking back, despite the headwinds I always seemed to face on the bike both on the way to and the way back from school."

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