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Lopez and “The Darkness of Contemporary Life”

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Barry Lopez, prominent author and essayist of the environmental movement, gave a public presentation, “The Writer and Social Responsibility” on Thursday, October 2.

The event was made possible by the C. Angus Wurtele Environmental Studies Fund and was coordinated by Kim Smith of the ENTS Department.

Guests to the presentation were treated to the author’s outlook, that “in a highly commercialized world, we’ve lost sight of what a writer ought to do.”

Lopez, now with 16 books under his belt, including a National Book Award winner Arctic Dreams in 1989, still creates his works on a typewriter.

“Writing has now become a form of distraction, of entertainment,” he said, adding that nowadays the public puts too much focus on who the writer is and not what they create.

Commenting upon his own literary influences, Lopez demurely stated that he has learned from everyone he has encountered, and that if it weren’t for their dedication to their own work, he wouldn’t be as dedicated himself.

A writer’s real job description, he asserts, is twofold: first, identify–before they occur–spikes of conflict in the emotions of a community.

Next, set a precedent, with your writing, for addressing problems in the future. “Story is the way in which we remind ourselves who we wish to be,” said Lopez matter-of-factly.

Often alluding to the apocalyptic pale horse of Death, Lopez identified early in his talk that “the drama of all times is the coming together of all people to one fate.” Apprehensive about the world his grandchildren will inherit, he discussed ways in which we can be helpful, as writers or as citizens of Earth.

Despite long involvement in campaigning to protect the environment, Lopez is skeptical of the recent emphasis on sustainability. He believes “sustainability” has a connotation of maintaining machinery, rather than supporting biological life. “It’s nothing more than a way to perpetuate the Holocene.”

On the topic of climate change, the author holds a more mainstream view. He recognizes the severity of the issue, but points out that “we’re powerfully confused by global climate change.” Nevertheless, “it behooves us to err on the side of extreme caution,” explained Lopez.

Since age eight, Barry Lopez has been honing his voice through exploration outdoors. “I’ve been lucky,” he admits in an article en- titled “Uncivilized,” published last month in Outside magazine, when describing his adventures in almost 70 countries, as well as on both Poles. “Such places offer a kind of illumina- tion that can take the darkness out of contemporary life.”

Lopez draws on these experiences traveling around the world to create literary murals which depict the interaction of man and nature. Born in New York in 1945, raised in Southern California and schooled in Indiana, he has now called backwoods Oregon home for over four decades.

Time and again, however, he has rejected being labelled a nature writer. “I’m writing about humanity,” Lopez informed attentive Carls and community members.

Lopez’s advice to young writers can be found on his website. “Be discriminating and be discerning about the work you set for yourself… Put what you learn together carefully, and then write thoughtfully, with respect both for the reader and your sources.”

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