Novelist details personal growth during pandemic

Jorge Martinez
Staff Writer

Essayist and novelist Pico Iyer returned to the University of La Verne after 20 years to share his experiences during the pandemic while living in Japan on Sunday during a virtual discussion held via Zoom.

Randy Miller, senior adjunct professor of communications, interviewed Iyer for the virtual event with 60 people in attendance. Throughout the discussion, Iyer talked optimistically about how he is coping with the pandemic and how the experience has opened his mind.

“I can’t say I’m calm and clear, but I found that the pandemic asks us what is essential to our lives. So, the pandemic dramatized it but as we prepare to go onto our normal lives, we are given an opportunity to see what we have been missing,” Iyer said. 

Iyer, who made his career as a travel writer, included books that he’s written to show examples of what he is experiencing, including “The Lady and the Monk” and “Cuba and the Night.” Iyer said he relates to these books more than anything because the pandemic made him realize that he has to stay in one place.

“I’m always traveling so it was great. One of the things I discovered in my neighborhood (while in quarantine) was the scenery and the community it had to offer,” Iyer said.

The writer currently lives in Japan and he said he was scared when the pandemic hit, but that it was all part of reality. Iyer says Japan taught him a lot, and it trained him to think more about community than himself.

“We don’t know what’s going to go on tomorrow. We must live with necessity and constraint. Japan has been living that very well and after the tsunami (in 2011) so many people here were not complaining. Other people have it worse,” Iyer said.

With growing public concern for racially-charged events and social justice movements happening throughout the world today, Iyer expressed his strong personal experiences.

“Remember that 98 percent of us are connected and there is no difference between us. We are all united,” Iyer said. “The world is only moving in the direction of crossing borders and not noticing it. This is why we talk so much about border laws.”

Alysia Gilman, sophomore psychology major, said Iyer is a great speaker.

“I learned about the different places he’s been in. I felt like he’s a really interesting person. The fact that his reflections were well spoken it’s great,” Gilman said.

Al Clark, professor in the humanities, said Iyer is a brilliant and well-rounded individual.

“He has traveled everywhere and is excited to talk about the problems of the world,” Clark said. “He speaks so well, and I loved his approach to life. Iyer is very optimistic and his comment on problems like the pandemic and global warming is a huge thing. Nevertheless, it’s solvable.”

Teresa Beardsley, ULV graduate, said she never knew or heard anything of Iyer before.

“I didn’t know he had extensive travel material,” Beardsley said. “I don’t have a ton of time to read but he has blogs that are travel related, so I might look into him more.”

Jorge Martinez can be reached at

Jorge Martinez
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