Listen: An Evening with Pico Iyer

by Ashley Karlin

Pico Iyer-003425.jpg

In early April 2013, I had the honor of hosting a couple of lectures with novelist and essayist Pico Iyer at Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  We had met a few years prior at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, where he was giving a talk on his new release at the time, The Open Road, a biography born from his many years as the closest journalist to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.   As he talked, I remember being struck by his description of losing his childhood home in Santa Barbara to the 1990 Painted Cave Wildfires.  Confronted with such a quick and thorough loss of the material artifacts of his life, including thousands of pages of writing, he was forced to let go of certain aspects of his past.  In such moments, we are presented with a chance to open ourselves to new meaning, new artifacts, new relationships.  In our correspondence over the years and during his visit to Pittsburgh, I witnessed the numerous ways in which Pico exemplifies this openness, meeting the world with kindness and wonder and a focus that makes even the shortest encounters meaningful. 

Ever attentive and curious, he spent his first visit to Pittsburgh exploring our city's cathedrals and museums, and connecting with everyone -- from the gentleman driving his hotel shuttle bus (who just happened to be reading Macaulay's History of England! ) to members of the Buddhist community and Carnegie Mellon faculty and students. It became increasingly clear to me how he comes to describe the world in such rich detail in his books. 


 Pico was kind enough to invite me to co-present with him in a casual Q-and-A, and the result was an intimate talk in the Quiet Reading Room at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where we covered everything from his meetings with Leonard Cohen in a mountaintop monastery to his most recent book, The Man Within My Head, a rumination on the work and life of Graham Greene.  Click 'play' above to hear a recording of our talk!