When Barry Lopez died on Christmas Day, The Georgia Review family lost a treasured friend. As writers and readers, we drew direction and inspiration from the accessibility and clarity of his prose. As editors, we felt sustained by his dedication to precision—over the placement of a comma or the identification of a wildflower. Former editor Stephen Corey documents below Barry’s contributions to the magazine and joins others of us in tribute.
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From 1993 to 2019, Barry Lopez’s work appeared in eleven issues of The Georgia Review: five essays, one of them reprinted in the journal’s fifty-fifth-year essay retrospective; two short stories, with one included in the sixty-fifth-year fiction retrospective and in the best-of anthology Stories Wanting Only to Be Heard, and twice interviewed—by Christian Martin (2006) and James Aton (2019).
Importantly for GR, after then-guest-editor Doug Carlson had solicited and accepted an essay from Lopez for the Spring 1993 “Focus on Nature Writing” issue, Lopez was from then on willing and even eager to send work. His reputation gave him an open door at most of the country’s leading large-circulation magazines, but Barry—he became a friend and I think of him by his first name as I mourn his passing—valued the quality of GR and its enduring commitment to environmental matters.
GR was able to bring Barry to Athens and the University of Georgia twice as the speaker for GR’s annual Earth Day program. The second appearance, in 2018, was linked to the publication of his magnum opus, Horizon, a nearly 600-page overview of what his lifetime of travel to obscure locations and peoples around the world had taught him about key knowledge we may have to embrace to survive our current century’s crises. Barry’s fiery lifelong commitment to the defense of the natural world and its whole range of societies always emerged through a voice and demeanor of great earnestness and calm: “Fight hard and to the end for the biggest issues,” his presence seemed to say, “but always with a sympathetic awareness of how difficult that fight must be for all the varied people and places involved.” Learning of Barry’s passing, long foretold but no easier to accept, I took out my copy he had inscribed that evening and read, “To Stephen, with the very pleasing sense of the long road together—Barry Lopez.”
Barry, what an honor to have known you. After all your committed work and accepted turmoil, RIP.
Stephen Corey worked with The Georgia Review in various capacities for thirty-six years, serving as editor from 2006 until his retirement in 2019. He has published ten poetry collections and, most recently, Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural (Mercer University Press, 2017).
In his 2019 Georgia Review interview, Barry Lopez tells of the Inuktitut word for storyteller: “. . . isumatuq. It means ‘the person who creates the atmosphere in which wisdom reveals itself.’ The writer is not the important person here. He or she is not the one who ‘knows.’ . . . For me, to turn the dangerous situation we’re living in today into a story that is comprehensible, into stories in which people can see themselves, and in which they can then discover what they will do next, is to write.”
For Barry, stories were like the fictional maps of the eponymous cartographer in “The Mappist” (Spring 2000). These are maps based on recording the detail of daily life, talking to longtime residents, observing—necessary information that, as the mappist explains, “shows history, and how people fit the places they occupy. It’s about what gets erased and what comes to replace it. These maps reveal the foundations beneath the ephemera.”
“Replacing Memory,” Barry’s first Georgia Review appearance, offered four such “maps,” stories that allow wisdom to reveal itself. In his cover letter, he wrote, “This is the ecology I’m interested in now,” a human ecology that would shape his career, the three decades of work on Horizon, and two generations of environmental writing.
Doug Carlson is an essayist and an assistant editor at The Georgia Review
When I emailed friends about Barry’s death, I said that Arctic Dreams meant so much to me, decades before I got to visit the Arctic and then later to spend much more time in the Antarctic. We were the reverse—he was a writer assisting scientists; I started out as a scientist with years of field work primarily in coral reef ecosystems before going back to law school and then international law. But I was a writer too, and he was an exemplar of how to write about joy and wonder, heartbreak and exasperation, in a style forbidden to the scientist or lawyer aiming for academic journals.
However, his book that I keep close by—on a shelf right behind my desk chair—is Apologia (1998). Like other Southerners, I am familiar with jokes about roadkills. But here is Barry Lopez on a cross-country trip, pausing to bury the roadkills he encounters, like marking Stations of the Cross. He describes the terrible physical damage the animals suffered caused by our unmindfulness, our hurry to get where we are going. And so without any thought as to what passersby may think, he performs this act of contrition, reminding us how much we have to atone for.
Dorinda Dallmeyer is the former director of UGA’s Environmental Ethics Program and has just written and co-produced the film Cultivating the Wild: William Bartram’s Travels.
We are Athens musicians and were fortunate to play for the two Georgia Review Earth Day programs at which Barry Lopez spoke in recent years.
In our correspondence, he wrote of the importance of rhythm, pace, and listening in giving a satisfying speaking performance. Barry was a great writer who could also speak his words without reading them.
There is a musical quality in his prose with the resonance of beautifully bowed or plucked strings. His words rise from the page like the soughing of a stand of longleaf pines in a South Georgia breeze. We miss him.
Charlie and Nancy Hartness are Hawk Proof Rooster, an old-time string band music duo in Athens, Georgia.
The one time I found myself in a room with Barry Lopez—at a speaking event hosted by The Georgia Review in 2019—he spoke of our need for elders. He didn’t want to make himself out to be one, he said with humility, only wanted to note our lack of them and their essential role in other cultures. Afterward, he inscribed his book Horizon to me, and I asked for his address, which he generously gave. I planned to write him a long letter praising his many works that had touched me deeply and shaped me as a writer—words of gratitude to an elder.
I didn’t know then that he was sick. When he died, my letter still unwritten, I went walking along the creek behind my house, where beavers, those totemic industrious animals, have been building dams. I’d heard that Barry collected beaver-chewed sticks from the McKenzie River near his home, put them in his study as a reminder to keep going with the work of writing. I picked up a stick, sharpened to a fine point by beavers; it reminded me of the precision of Barry’s language. Not just his words but their vision. I brought the stick to my study, to remind me: of my elder, my lineage. To keep going.
Holly Haworth’s writing appears in The New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Orion, Lapham’s Quarterly, Sierra, Terrain.org, In These Times, The Utne Reader, and the On Being radio program blog.
Athens was several times a comfortable port for Barry in his travels out from his Oregon home, and it wasn’t too long a drive for me to go down and check in with him. One reason Barry liked Georgia was because his mother’s people were from there, and as a boy, he spent time on his Uncle Gordon’s farm on the Flint River. He writes about that in the essay “Theft.”
In the late ’90s, when I coedited an anthology of Southern nature writing for UGA Press, Barry whimsically suggested he should be included, and, after we published “Theft,” I told him that his kinfolks, his essay, and his visits to Athens made him more than an honorary Southerner.
With Barry’s passing it’s sad to think he won’t be back to Georgia and I won’t be driving down for a meal, to check, to talk about writing, to hear him speak. He will become associated more and more with Oregon and the Arctic and other distant landscapes he wrote stunningly about. But people live on in memory. Spirits inhabit places they held in their hearts. The departed are spread among a thousand affections.
John Lane is a writer living in South Carolina. He writes about landscape and the imagination.
Three months after my first book came out, I got a typewritten postcard. “A simple note of congratulation.” Reading the signature took time, but finally I deciphered: Barry L.
I met Barry briefly when I was a grad student at Montana. That he had taken the time to write me—I who wanted desperately to be like him—was huge. His note told me all I needed about a man who was a giant in my world, a legend.
I’ve just counted. In my file are five letters from Barry. Not many. In every one, he signs off with “love” or “abrazos,” because that’s how he rolled. The one dated July 2018 says, “You ask what it is you might do for me. My answer is that for me you just need to carry on, to push your work ahead, to take care of your family, and to raise your voice when it’s needed. We’re in a hellfire time and it’s sure to get worse.”
Writing this washes me with infinite sadness. Such loss. But how lucky I was to have him for a hero, a mentor, a guide, a friend.
Janisse Ray’s essay “The Lonely Ruralist,” which was published in The Georgia Review, won a Pushcart Prize in 2020.
At a pivotal moment in my practice, when I was transitioning from working in photographic darkrooms to working outside immersed along California’s wild shorelines, a friend suggested I borrow her copy of Home Ground. I was immediately transfixed by the compilation and remain enchanted by it years later. My copy lives on the shelf reserved for books I need accessible at any moment in my studio. When I see something new in my work, I go to Home Ground to read stirring descriptions of the geologic processes mirrored in my pictures. I go to Home Ground to remember connection with the land and the water, to research and critique, to find titles for my work, to marvel in the vastness of it all. I’m grateful for so many of Barry Lopez’s words, and today, while working at an ephemeral creek, was moved to read, “You’ve come upon the invisible but real when you stand above a blind creek. Dig, and the water will come to light, like the blind floor revealed when the carpenter’s floor is taken up.”
Meghann Riepenhoff is an artist using antiquated photographic processes in collaboration with the environment. Her work can be seen in the Winter 2020 issue of The Georgia Review.