Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Conversations with Barry Lopez’
‘Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination’
William E. Tydeman
208 pages, softcover: $19.95
Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2013
For 40 years now, Barry Lopez has been at the center of the national and international conversation about social justice, and the fate of humanity and the Earth. In “Conversations with Barry Lopez,” the National Book Award-winning writer’s thought, precision and intelligence are brought gracefully to the page in three candid personal interviews with his longtime friend, William E. Tydeman, a writer and archivist at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library. The book also features an introduction to Lopez’s life and work, 19 black-and-white photographs and a comprehensive bibliography.
Tydeman’s close relationship with Lopez allows the two men to travel through the kind of conversational territory that begins in restraint and formality and leads into the country of the heart. If Lopez’s manner appears rehearsed, it also lacks pretense; rather, it reflects his careful and heartfelt consideration of his art and of the world in which we all live.
In his introduction, Tydeman explores Lopez’s ideas about “individual genius.” In facing what he calls “the disquieting dimensions of (his) own ego,” Lopez strongly believes that “humanity has more often benefited from the genius of the community than from the genius of the individual.” Anyone praised for great work in any field, Lopez attests, must admit that achievement is not possible without the community’s support.
Lopez goes on to speak about the environmental and social challenges of our age, which he calls “a singular time of concern.” In America today, we talk a lot about finding and destroying the enemy, whatever it is. Lopez says bluntly: “I don’t believe there is an enemy. … If you spend your energy trying to identify an enemy, and you track down this putative enemy, and you kill him, he will rise again in another quarter, in another costume.”
One of the most engaging sections of the book is poet and archivist Diane Warner’s 43-page list of Lopez’s published works. It features notes by both Lopez and Warner that offer a deeper understanding of the writer’s path and development.
A longtime editor and friend once said of him: If there is anyone in America writing better than Barry Lopez, I don’t know who it could be. There is wisdom in this little book, because there is so much wisdom in the man, in fact in these two men, who open the door for each other to think and feel and then invite the reader in to join them. The book encourages all of us to ask the same question Lopez asks himself: “Do I help make the world safe and beautiful by what I do?”
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