Though best known as a popular travel and culture writer, Pico Iyer is also a virtuoso interviewer who makes the Arts & Lectures series, Speaking with Pico, a delight for readers and lovers of ideas. Last season’s guests included authors Zadie Smith, Anthony Doerr, Maria Popova, and B.J. Miller. In the new season, Pico will present another diverse quartet including the Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax, Man Booker Prize winner George Saunders, acclaimed author of The Orchid Thief Susan Orlean, and National Book Award winner Andrew Solomon.
Iyer’s connection with Arts & Lectures runs deep. The son of UCSB professors, Iyer remembers attending Arts & Lectures events while he was growing up. For most of the last 30 years, Iyer has lived in rural Japan, a country with which he has an abiding affinity and, as he told the Santa Barbara Independent during a recent conversation, one he would probably never leave were it not for work commitments. Iyer admitted that one drawback of living in an isolated location is that it’s rare for him to have met the accomplished, inspiring people he welcomes to Arts & Lectures. “I spend almost all my time reading and writing,” Iyer said, “so I know the guests through their work.” As an audience member, you would never know. Iyer has a gift for putting his guests at ease and establishing a feeling of intimacy; it’s as if the audience is watching two old friends having a conversation in the corner of a drawing room. This is one reason why Iyer never relies on notes. “I want that intimacy,” he said, “and a sheaf of notes can be a barrier. The real point of this series is to surprise people and expand their understanding. When I talk to a writer, my goal is to encourage them to speak in their authentic voice, as they would offstage, rather than the voice they might use on a book tour.”
If past is prologue, the coming season promises to be engaging, memorable, and revelatory. The first installment of the Speaking with Pico series kicks off with Joan Halifax on Tuesday, October 23, at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.