Lewis Hyde

Tuesday, October 29

7:00 - 8:00 pm

Thoreau Farm

341 Virginia Rd

We live in a culture that prizes memory―how much we can store, the quality of what’s preserved, how we might better document and retain the moments of our life while fighting off the nightmare of losing all that we have experienced. But what if forgetfulness were seen not as something to fear―be it in the form of illness or simple absentmindedness―but rather as a blessing, a balm, a path to peace and rebirth? 

A Primer for Forgetting is a remarkable experiment in scholarship, autobiography, and social criticism by the author of the classics The Gift and Trickster Makes This World. It forges a new vision of forgetfulness by assembling fragments of art and writing from the ancient world to the modern, weighing the potential boons forgetfulness might offer the present moment as a creative and political force. It also turns inward, using the author’s own life and memory as a canvas upon which to extol the virtues of a concept too long taken as an evil. 

Drawing material from Hesiod to Jorge Luis Borges to Elizabeth Bishop to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from myths and legends to very real and recent traumas both personal and historical, A Primer for Forgetting is a unique and remarkable synthesis that only Lewis Hyde could have produced.

Meet Lewis Hyde


“An elegant exercise in philosophy and form, Hyde’s meditation . . . offers stimulating contemplation of the odd paradox that ‘memory and oblivion... cannot function unless they work together.’” –Publishers Weekly

“An eclectic and insightful miscellany of playful, spirited, provocative reflections.” –Kirkus Reviews

A Primer for Forgetting is a lightning bolt of a book, a luminous meditation on the uses and disadvantages of memory. Hyde has distilled a lifetime of learning across disciplines into a vital and vivifying collection of parables, anecdotes, and gnomic insights that ramify the mind, that urge us to ask better questions of ourselves, to honor the responsibilities we have to one another, and to the wrestle with the debt we owe history. Hyde has given us a rare gift, and again proven himself master of what can only be called wisdom literature.” – Cheston Knapp, author of Up Up, Down Down


Lewis Hyde is a poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic with a particular interest in the public life of the imagination. His 1983 book, The Gift, illuminates and defends the non-commercial portion of artistic practice. Trickster Makes This World (1998) uses a group of ancient myths to argue for the disruptive intelligence that all cultures need if they are to remain lively and open to change. Common as Air (2010) is a spirited defense of our "cultural commons," that vast store of ideas, inventions, and works of art that we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. 

Hyde’s most recent book, A Primer for Forgetting, explores the many situations in which forgetfulness is more useful than memory—in myth, personal psychology, politics, art & spiritual life. 

A MacArthur Fellow and former director of undergraduate creative writing at Harvard University, Hyde taught creative writing and American literature for many years at Kenyon College. Now retired, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, the writer Patricia Vigderman. Hyde is a trustee of the MacDowell Colony and a founding director of the Creative Capital Foundation.

Other Works