This conversation from the 2015 Key West Literary Seminar focuses on the concept of wonder and its relation to writing and living. Picking up on a KWLS conversation they had enjoyed in 2006, Pico Iyer and Barry Lopez speak on the importance of doing justice to the Other, the author’s obligation to bear witness, and the difficulty of balancing right speech and right action.
Opening the conversation, Lopez reads his essay, “The Six Thousand Lessons,” which moves from his childhood just outside of New York City to locations as desolate as the Arctic Circle. Both Iyer and Lopez then discuss their wide travels and the writer’s obligation to report and observe those locations least understood by the dominant culture, drawing on thinkers as diverse as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elaine Jahner, and David Finkel. “The beauty of wonder,” both seem to agree, “is that it cuts through a false sense of knowingness.” And though Iyer suggests that he might be more taken by the future than Lopez, who possesses a deep sense of past, both find kinship in their admiration for the human and homemade.
“Art,” Lopez argues during the discussion, “has saved as many lives as any hospital.”
Pico Iyer is an internationally acclaimed essayist and novelist whose work frequently appears in Time, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and Harper’s. Based in western Japan since 1987, Iyer has long tried to bring inner world and outer world together, combining an exploration of the globe’s many cultures with a cross-questioning of the self.
Barry Lopez is the author of nine books of fiction and five books of nonfiction, including Arctic Dreams, which won the National Book Award in 1986. His work often explores responsibility, the environment, and the relation between them.
From KWLS 2015: How The Light Gets In.