Barry Lopez (1945-2020) was an award-winning American writer who, in the words of The Guardian, “tried to tighten the bonds between people and place by describing the landscapes he saw in 50 years of travel.” He wrote fiction and nonfiction, authoring nearly 20 books about natural history. He also wrote novels, essays, and short story collections. In 1986, he was awarded the National Book Award for Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. It was the result of almost five years of traveling the Arctic.
He liked going to extreme locations on the planet to discover the mysteries of the natural landscape first-hand. It was an endeavor that resulted in literature that, according to The New York Times, reflected humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir.
Lopez’s final work was Horizon, an autobiography that recalls his lifetime of travel to more than 70 countries, and which he outlined and researched during his MacDowell residency. In Horizon, he wrote that in his formative years growing up in both California’s San Fernando Valley and New York City, he developed “a desire simply to go away. To find what the skyline has cordoned off.” He spent his later years in a wooded area along the McKenzie River east of Eugene, OR. After years of writing about the natural world and humans’ effect on climate change, he mourned the loss of acres of timber, not to mention personal papers, in the September Holiday Farm fire that consumed nearly 175,000 acres.
Lopez was a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and wrote for many national publications. He taught at Columbia University, Eastern Washington University, the University of Iowa, Carleton College in Minnesota and Texas Tech University, where his works are archived. In February of 2020, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Longtime friend Kim Stafford, a former Oregon poet laureate, said Lopez’s books “are landmarks that define a region, a time, a cause. He also exemplifies a life of devotion to craft and learning, to being humble in the face of wisdom of all kinds.”
Portrait by David Liittschwager