Writing the hard stuff | Rest in Peace Barry Lopez

By Trace Hentz

A few days ago, I gave an interview (via Zoom) to my friend Elliott Greenblott in Vermont who is interviewing writers for a new video program "AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE." I told him the hardest part of writing my memoir was describing the sexual abuse I experienced when I was a young teen.

I do not recommend anyone write about childhood abuse without a strong support system and therapy. WHY? You have to process your memory and feelings and that processing might take years. Writing is my favorite form of therapy, of course. Other writers have tackled it very well.  Like Barry Lopez.

Today, December 26, we lost Barry Lopez, a friend to Indian Country.


Barry Lopez, Acclaimed Author And Traveler Beyond Many Horizons, Dies At 75

He died on Christmas Day following a years-long battle with prostate cancer, his wife confirmed to NPR. He was 75. Lopez spent more than 30 years writing his last book, Horizon, and you don't spend that much time on a project without going through periods of self doubt.

In 'Sliver Of Sky,' Barry Lopez Confronts Childhood Sexual Abuse

Barry Lopez is known for writing about the natural world. His books include Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men, where he explores the relationship between the physical landscape and human culture. But in a new essay in the January issue of Harper's Magazine, Lopez writes that he was sexually molested by a family friend when he was a boy, and says the man was never brought to justice.

The abuse began when Lopez was 7 years old. The man, named Harry Shier, oversaw the alcoholism treatment for a relative of Lopez's mother at the sanatorium Shier supervised in North Hollywood, Calif. He presented himself as a doctor. Lopez writes that Shier said there was something wrong with Lopez, and that the rape was treatment for that problem.

"I was a child," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I was 7 years old, and the world of medicine and the world of treatment and the world of how we take care of each other was a tabula rasa for me. I knew that when I saw these degrees from prestigious institutions — all of which were fraudulent — on his wall that I was in the hands of somebody that I knew the adult world respected, and as a young person trying to learn the world, I was trying to understand things that were new to me, and that just fell into that category.

"I think one of the things that's difficult for adults to understand about pedophiles who really prey on children is that the child is not an adult, so the perspicacity and the insight and the intuition that an adult might have in a situation like this [to] sniff the fraud out before it takes on the scope that it did for me and for others — you can do that as an adult but you can't do that as a child. And a child can be manipulated 10 ways to Sunday. All the while, the child is trying to pay attention and trying to understand a foreign world, and this was just part of that foreign world."

Shier, Lopez says, pretended to court his mother, who was recently divorced and struggling financially. And so, Lopez says, "[Shier] was extremely good at creating an atmosphere in our home where he would be highly regarded and appreciated by my mother and, you know, trying to control me was as simple as keeping a ... dog in a box. You're just a prisoner of something you can't understand."

Lopez, who lives in Oregon, says this piece is the hardest he's ever written.

"The advantage that I had," he says, "is that I've been a writer all my life, and I had somebody at Harper's — Chris Cox — who was an exceptional editor, who could do what I could not do, which is I could not find and hold the emotional distance that I needed from this material in order to write about it in the way that I thought I had to, which is, in the end it's not about me, it's about us."

Climate Change hit home for Lopez this past September. Much of his property was burned in wildfires that tore through Oregon, partly due to abnormally dry conditions. His wife Debra Gwartney says he lost an archive that stored most of his books, awards, notes and correspondence from the past 50 years, as well as much of the forest around the home. The fire was a blow he never could recover from...


I read Of Wolves and Men decades ago but still remember the impact it had on me. Mr. Lopez was completely honest, writing with a sense of wonder that never left him. He relied on his intelligence and his compassion. Your writing does that too, my friend.
LT said…
Laura Grace, you made my day/week/month/year. I thank you! You better be writing!

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