Though many of his books are about visits to far-off places, acclaimed writer Pico Iyer is interested in far more than miles trekked or places of interest.
It’s the existential aspect, and the special revelations produced in the course of traveling, that often lie at the heart of his many books.
Iyer brings his lyrical, existential brand of literary elegance -- and eloquence -- to campus this month as the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center’s visiting writer in residence and Golo Mann Distinguished Lecturer. He will deliver a public address, as part of this distinguished lecture series, on April 16, entitled "Our New Global Culture: Visions and Divisions."
On the previous evening, April 15, the Gould Center will present a conversation between Iyer and Jonathan Lethem, Disney Professor of Creative Writing at Pomona College, entitled "Authors in Their Heads," in which both writers discuss their esteem for Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, and others.
Iyer joins a robust lineup of Gould speakers and visiting writers this semester including prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, Hopi filmmaker Victor Masayesva, screenwriter John Sacret Young, photographer Allison Davis O'Keefe '00, and best-selling novelist Francine Prose (forthcoming, on April 17).
Iyer is a renowned writer of great versatility -- as novelist, essayist, reviewer, screenwriter -- although his widest reputation is perhaps because of travel books such as The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions, Sun After Dark, and The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home.
"I'd often referred to myself as homeless -- an Indian born in England and moving to California as a boy," he writes in The Global Soul, after a fire destroys his house. "But now all the handy metaphors were actual, and the lines of the poems, included in the manuscript that was the only thing in my shoulder bag when I fled, were my only real foundations for a new fin de siecle life."
In his hands, travel writing becomes -- as it does for Paul Theroux or Bruce Chatwin -- about much more than local color and a sense of place.
His recent books have examined other intriguing figures who have been exiles or wanderers for one reason or another: The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and The Man Within My Head (an interwoven meditation on the lives of Iyer's father and "writer of entertainments" Graham Greene).
Iyer is also a prolific writer of prefaces to other classic works. In a recent edition of Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient, for instance, he marvels at the author's attention to detail: "You quickly see that you're in the hands of an author in love with the information of the real world, a man who has a jeweler's eye..."
The same can be said of Iyer.
For more information on this semester's lineup of Gould guest speakers, click here to visit the Gould Center website.