Barry Lopez, a Literature of Hope

June 16, 2008

Restless and feeling a bit blue, I perused my bookshelf for something to lose myself in for awhile.

I took down one of my Barry Lopez’s: just the heft of the book and its sober cover promised comfort. I’m not talking about the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ kind of comfort. Spending some time with Barry is more like being with a good friend who looks you in the eye and lovingly but clearly speaks the truth. 

On the first page of  his autobiographical, ‘About This Life,  Journeys on the Threshold of Memory’, he uses the word adumbrations. So you know right away you are not going to be pandered to, and will have to work a bit.

On the book jacket is a picture of the author, in this one, he looks a bit grim to me. But I think that neither he nor his writing are the cuddly sort. (Though, he might be if you got to know him well enough). 

What moves me most about his work is the passion under the words; this man cares to the point of pain about the natural world and our relationship to it.  But there is never overt sentimentality in his subjects. Sometimes his images are harrowing, but there is always a reason. His prose can be richly desciptive, but also pared down to a keen flint edge. What it comes down to is everything he writes matters. To him. And as a result, to the reader.

I have been reading his work for years, and his phrases are some of the most recurring in my calligraphic art. Through the example of his unwavering integrity, he has taught me about the role of the artist in the greater community. He says it best:

If I were asked what  I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it is to contribute to a literature of hope…I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns.
Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story in the end is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part.

[here he refers to himself as a child ]… When I write, I can imagine a child in California wishing to give away what he’s just seeen– a wild animal fleeing through creosote cover in the desert, casting a bright-eyed backward glance. Or three lines of overheard conversation that seem to contain everything we need understand to repair the gaping rift between body and soul. I look back at that boy turning in glee beneath his pigeons, and know it can take a lifetime to convey what you mean, to find the opening. You watch, you set it down. Then you try again.
-Barry Lopez



2 Responses to “Barry Lopez, a Literature of Hope”

  1. szoutewelle Says:

    That was the fastest reaction to a post I’ve ever had!
    Glad to meet another Lopez friend.
    cheers, Sarah

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