February 15, 2010
Rollins' 2010 Winter With the Writers, A Festival of the Literary Arts, concluded on Thursday, Feb. 11 with essayist and short-story writer Barry Lopez. Lopez is best known as the author of Arctic Dreams, for which he received the National Book Award. His other non-fiction books are About This Life, and Of Wolves and Men, which was a National Book Award finalist. Fiction titles include Field Notes, Winter Count, Light Action in the Caribbean (stories), and Resistance, a book of interrelated stories.
The evening began with the presentation of the van den Berg Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a student of great merit in the Hamilton Holt School, Rollins Evening program. The scholarship is given in honor of alumna Laura van den Berg (Class of 2005) by her parents, Egerton van den Berg and Caroline Merritt. Today, Laura van den Berg is a published author with a new book titled What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us. Egerton van den Berg emotionally described his daughter’s path from being “lost and having a difficult time in high school” to finding her way as one of the Winter With the Writers interns to earning her MFA at Emerson College. “We will always be grateful to Winter With the Writers and to Rollins,” he said. He assisted with the presentation of the 2010 scholarship to Logan Ganier.
Moved by the presentation and to begin the evening’s discussion, Lopez read from two pieces—both the work of other writers—that comment on what it is to be a writer. “If there is any genius in us, it is in our community,” Lopez told the audience.
“Writing is a way of life for me as opposed to being an occupation,” he shared. “Language is beautiful … the way it can settle us and move us. It’s a kind of music, and if you choose to do this, you have an ethical obligation to language and the community.”
For the past 40 years, Lopez has lived in a very rural part of Oregon where he frequently sees bobcat, mink and black bear. “I hope when you are working in your part of Florida that each of you will hear birds that no one else hears and that will become the opening of an antiphony for you,” he said.
He read his story “The Mappist” from Light Action in the Caribbean as well as an excerpt from his essay “An Intimate Geography.” Throughout the evening, he spoke about his experiences in nature and the need for intimacy with the Earth.
“While traveling in places that to others seem monotone, I fall into a pattern,” he said recalling a particular trek in Antarctica. “Imperfect love, imperfect love, imperfect love … our love for each other is our recognition of the imperfection.”
He discussed the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction. “The difference is the agreement with the reader,” he said. “There are different kinds of truths because with nonfiction, the reader has to be able to verify.”
Lopez, who writes on an IBM Selectric typewriter, also said that the processes are different. “If I’m watching a piece of nonfiction on the typewriter, I can feel it and watch my hands break away from the keys,” he said. “Fiction doesn’t end on the page.”
When asked by a member of the audience what can we learn from other writers, he replied “When you close a good book, you don’t say, ‘I never knew that.’ When you close a good book, you say, ‘I knew that but I had forgotten.’”