News | 10 June 2020

Pico Iyer and Alan Christy in Conversation

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THI presents acclaimed writer Pico Iyer in conversation with history professor Alan Christy

By Scott Rappaport for UCSC News

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Pico Iyer is the author of 15 books, translated into 23 languages, and has been a constant contributor for over three decades to Time, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and more than 250 other periodicals worldwide. 

Born in England to parents from India, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, he has been largely based in Japan since 1987. 

Literary Quarterly once described him as “the poet laureate of wanderlust,” noting “his perennial subject is the strange confluences and poignant idiosyncrasies born of our world’s dissolving borders, and he explores it with a rich mixture of astonishing erudition and wide-eyed wonder.”

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UC Santa Cruz history professor Alan Christy

On June 15, Bookshop Santa Cruz and The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz will present an online event featuring the bestselling author in conversation with UC Santa Cruz history professor Alan Christy. 

They will discuss Iyer’s latest book, Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells—an exploration of Japanese history and culture and a moving meditation on impermanence, mortality, and grief—and a companion book, A Beginner’s Guide to Japan, now in paperback. 

Both of these books draw extensively from his 30 years of living in Japan. Autumn Light examines aging, death and the fracturing of family life—seen though the lens of Japanese culture. Iyer recounts his efforts and those of his Japanese wife, Hiroko, to deal with her father’s death, her mother entering a nursing home, and her estrangement from her brother. 

The New York Journal of Books noted that Autumn Light profoundly “succeeds, with its deceptively quiet descriptions of autumn both in the natural world, and in the season of his and Hiroko’s own lives, in echoing a uniquely Japanese appreciation of the fleeting nature of time, as well as the humbling acceptance that nothing lasts.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations, is a very different yet complementary work in which Iyer draws from his travels, conversations, readings, and reflections to create a playful book of surprising, brief, astute glimpses into Japanese culture. He describes his adventures and thoughts as he travels from a meditation hall to a love hotel, from West Point to Kyoto Station, and from dinner with Meryl Streep to an ill-fated call to the Apple service center.

Professor Christy has been with the History Department at UC Santa Cruz since 1995, including a two-year stint as a visiting associate professor at the University of Tokyo from 2004-2006. He studies the history of Japan and is director of the Okinawa Memories Initiative, a public history project that explores the postwar Okinawan-American relationship in Okinawa and throughout the Pacific region. He is also the provost of Cowell College.

Well-versed in Japanese culture and history, Christy said he hopes to discuss a wide variety of topics with Iyer in their virtual conversation— including the themes of living with mortality and uncertainty that run through Iyer’s books and what we might learn from the culture of impermanence in Japan

“I think I’d like to talk with him about what thinking about Japan can do for us right now,” said Christy. “Japan is a place of continual catastrophes (earthquakes, tsunamis, fires). As we struggle with this pandemic and uncertainty, I would ask ‘what lessons does he see for us from his experiences in Japan?”

Bookshop Santa Cruz and The Humanities Institute present an online event featuring Pico Iyer in conversation with UC Santa Cruz history professor Alan Christy on June 15, at 6 p.m. Admission is free with registration