National Book Award winner Barry Lopez dies at 75

National Book Award winner Barry Lopez dies at 75

Barry Lopez, who authored close to 20 books on natural history, including the National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams (Vintage), has died at the age of 75.

Lopez died on Christmas Day (Friday 25th December) at his home in Eugene, Oregon, his family confirmed to NPR, after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Lopez is best known as the author of Arctic Dreams, the product of almost five years in the Arctic, for which he received the National Book Award in 1986. Before winning, his 1978 history of man’s relationship with wolves, Of Wolves and Men, was a finalist for the prestigious prize. He also wrote fiction, including Field Notes, Winter Count, and a novella-length fable, Crow and Weasel. His last work was the memoir Horizon (Vintage), chronicling a lifetime of travel in more than 70 countries.

"Barry’s writing is passionate, moral, supernaturally alive to landscapes and curious about the peoples that inhabit them, open to indigenous cultures, sensitive to natural rhythms and our reckless disturbance of them, uniquely evocative of places both real and that live in our imaginations," said Stuart Williams, publishing director at Vintage imprint The Bodley Head, on behalf of the publisher.

"Arctic Dreams is without doubt his best-loved book here. It was greeted as work of incredible power and poetry when it was first published, and remains a classic of what became known as nature writing. Horizon, which we published in 2019, was more than long-awaited: it had shimmered on the horizon for decades. But when its day came, it was embraced by other writers and by booksellers and readers with a warmth I’ve rarely seen. We’ll miss him, but his books will go on opening our eyes and minds for years to come."

British writer Robert Macfarlane paid tribute to Lopez on social media after making "his last great journey", hailing him "a giant" among writers, one whose work defied categorisation and was an inspiration to many. 

"His work—graceful, meticulous, ethical, compassionate, from Arctic Dreams to Common Ground to Horizon and far beyond—shaped and will go on to shape countless lives, hearts and landscapes," Macfarlane said. "Barry knew that no landscape speaks with a single voice; that place is always polyglot. His writing recognised this, speaking with the energy and variety of a braided river, picking new courses and channels through archaeology, geology, oral history and natural history."

He continued: "The range and reach of Barry's work makes a nonsense of labels such as 'nature writer' or 'travel writer'. His subjects were people and land—and these of course are subjects boundless in their breadth, infinite in their complexity and fathomless in their depth.

"For me, as for so many, Barry's work was formative not just at the moment of first contact, but durably, profoundly. He exploded my sense of what 'non-fiction' could be, what it might achieve. He was my north star, the writer who made me a writer... Truly, a giant has passed."