Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (Tamil: சித்தார்த்
பைக்கோ ராகவன் ஐயர்; born 11 February
1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born American essayist and
novelist, best known for his travel writing. He is the author of
numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in
Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul. An essayist for
Time since 1986, he also publishes regularly in Harper's, The New York
Review of Books, The New York Times, and other publications.
1 Early life
3 Personal life
5.2 Essays and other contributions
5.2.1 Selected introductions
7 External links
Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in Oxford, England, the son
of Indian parents. His father was Raghavan N. Iyer, an Oxford
philosopher and political theorist. His mother is the religious
scholar Nandini Nanak Mehta. He is the great-great-grandson of
Indian Gujarati writer Mahipatram Nilkanth. Both of his parents
grew up in India then went to England for tertiary education. His
unusual name is a combination of the Buddha's name, Siddhartha, that
of the Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and his father's
When Iyer was seven, in 1964, his father started working with Center
for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a California-based think
tank, so the family also moved to California, as his father started
teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara
(1965–1986). Thus for more than a decade Iyer moved back
and forth several times a year between schools and college in England
and his parents' home in California.
He was a King's Scholar at Eton College, was awarded a Congratulatory
Double First in English Literature at
Oxford University and then
received his second master's in literature at Harvard. In 2017, along
Plácido Domingo and Mario Vargas Llosa, he was awarded an
honorary doctorate (in Humane Letters) by Chapman University.
He taught writing and literature at
Harvard before joining Time in
1982 as a writer on world affairs. Since then he has travelled widely,
North Korea to Easter Island, and from
Paraguay to Ethiopia,
while writing eight works of non-fiction and two novels, including
Video Night in Kathmandu (1988), The Lady and the Monk (1991), The
Global Soul (2000) and The Man Within My Head (2012). He is also a
frequent speaker at literary festivals and universities around the
world. He delivered popular TED talks in 2013 and 2014 and has twice
been a Fellow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He appeared in a
commercial for "Incredible India" in 2007.
Pico Iyer has been based since 1992 in Nara, Japan, where he lives
with his Japanese wife, Hiroko Takeuchi, the "Lady" of his
second book, and her two children from an earlier marriage. Iyer's
family home in Santa Barbara burned down due to a wildfire in 1990, a
biographical landmark that may have had a deep impact on his
peripatetic perspective on 'being at home' in general. In his literary
essays and TED-Talks, he repeatedly said: “For more and more of us,
home has really less to do with a piece of soil, than you could say,
with a piece of soul.”
Asked if he feels rooted and accepted as a foreigner (regarding his
current life in Japan) Iyer replies:
"Japan is therefore an ideal place because I never will be a true
citizen here, and will always be an outsider, however long I live here
and however well I speak the language. And the society around me is as
comfortable with that as I am… I am not rooted in a place, I think,
so much as in certain values and affiliations and friendships that I
carry everywhere I go; my home is both invisible and portable. But I
would gladly stay in this physical location for the rest of my life,
and there is nothing in life that I want that it doesn’t have."
Pico Iyer has known the
14th Dalai Lama
14th Dalai Lama since he was in his late
teens, when he accompanied his father to Dharamshala, India, in the
early 1970s. In discussions about his spirituality, Iyer has mentioned
not having a formal meditation practice, but practicing regular
solitude, visiting a remote Benedictine hermitage near
Big Sur several
times a year.
Having grown up a part of — and apart from — English, American and
Indian cultures, he became one of the first writers to take the
international airport itself as his subject, along with the associated
jet lag, displacement and cultural minglings. He writes often of his
delight in living between the cracks and outside fixed categories.
Most of his books have been about trying to see from within some
society or way of life — revolutionary Cuba, Sufism, Buddhist Kyoto,
even global disorientation — but from the larger perspective an
outsider can sometimes bring. "I am simply a fairly typical product of
a movable sensibility," he wrote in 1993 in Harper's, "living and
working in a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly
mongrel. I am a multinational soul on a multinational globe on which
more and more countries are as polyglot and restless as airports.
Taking planes seems as natural to me as picking up the phone or going
to school; I fold up my self and carry it around as if it were an
Iyer has written numerous pieces on world affairs for Time, including
10 cover stories, and the "Woman of the Year" story on Corazon Aquino
in 1986. He has written on literature for The New York Review
of Books; on globalism for Harper's; on travel for the Financial
Times; and on many other themes for The New York Times, National
Geographic, The Times Literary Supplement, contributing up to a
hundred articles a year to various publications. He has
contributed liner-notes for four Leonard Cohen albums. His books have
appeared in languages such as Turkish, Russian, and Indonesian, and he
has written introductions to more than 40 books, including works by
Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Matthiessen,
and Isamu Noguchi. He also writes regularly on sport, film, and
religion — and especially on the places where mysticism and
He has appeared seven times in the annual Best Spiritual Writing
anthology, and three times in the annual Best American Travel
Writing anthology, and has served as guest editor for both. He
has also appeared in the Best American Essays anthology.
Iyer's writing goes back and forth between the monastery and the
airport — "
Thomas Merton on a frequent flier pass," as the Indian
writer Pradeep Sebastian has written — and aims, perhaps, to
bring new global energies and possibilities into non-fiction. The Utne
Reader named him in 1995 as one of 100 Visionaries worldwide who could
change your life, while the New Yorker observed that "As a guide
to far-flung places,
Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed."
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
The Recovery of Innocence. (London: Concord Grove Press, July 1984.
ISBN 0-88695-019-8) – A collection of essays about American
literature, described on its cover as offering "Literary glimpses of
the American dream". The lists of publications in Iyer's later books
do not mention this book, which is not common; the Library of Congress
has a copy.
Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-so-Far East
(New York: Knopf, April 1988, hardback. Vintage, July 1989; paperback
/ ISBN 0-679-72216-5)
The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in
Kyoto (August 1991 /
ISBN 0-679-40308-6; New York: Knopf, September 1991, hardback;
Vintage, October 1992, paperback / ISBN 0-679-73834-7)
Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World (New York: Knopf,
April 1993 hardback. Vintage, May 1994 paperback /
Cuba and the Night (New York: Knopf, April 1995 hardback. Vintage,
April 1996 paperback / ISBN 0-517-17267-4)
Tropical Classical: Essays From Several Directions. (New York: Knopf,
May 1997. ISBN 0-679-45432-2 (hardback). Penguin, 1997.
ISBN 0-14-027119-8 (paperback). Vintage, June 1998.
ISBN 0-679-77610-9 (paperback)) – Book reviews and essays on
places, people, and other matters.
The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home (New
York: Knopf, February 2000 hardback. Vintage, April 2001 paperback /
Imagining Canada: An Outsider's Hope for a Global Future (Toronto:
Hart House, University of Toronto, January 2001 /
ISBN 0-9694382-1-4) – First Hart House lecture: full transcript
Abandon: A Romance (New York: Viking, February 2003 hardback. Vintage,
April 2004 paperback / ISBN 1-4000-3085-4)
Sun after Dark: Flights into the Foreign (New York: Knopf, April 2004
hardback. Vintage, April 2005 paperback / ISBN 0-375-41506-8)
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (New
York: Knopf, March 2008 hardback / ISBN 0-307-26760-1)
The Man within My Head (New York: Knopf, January 2012 hardback /
The Art of Stillness : Adventures in Going Nowhere (Simon &
Schuster/TED, 2014 hardback / ISBN 1476784728)
Essays and other contributions
Iyer, Pico (12 January 2015). "Whispers from a friend". Outlook. 55
(1): 20–22. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
Graham Greene, The Complete Stories
Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
Somerset Maugham, The Skeptical Romancer (editor/writer of
R.K. Narayan, A Tiger for Malgudi, The Man-Eater of Malgudi, and The
Vendor of Sweets
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (
Peter Owen Publishers in London brought
this out in August 2012)
Arto Paasilinna, The Year of the Hare
Frederic Prokosch, The Asiatics
Donald Richie, The Inland Sea
Nicolas Rothwell, Wings of the Kite-Hawk
Huston Smith, Tales of Wonder
Lawrence Weschler, A Wanderer in the Perfect City
Natsume Sōseki, The Gate (2012)
^ a b c "Raghavan Iyer, Political Science: Santa Barbara, 1930-1995",
Calisphere, University of California.
^ a b Mark Medley (13 February 2012). "Being Greene:
Pico Iyer evokes
his 'literary father' in The Man Within My Head". National Post.
Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 27 September
^ Rukun Advani, "Mahatma for Sale", The Hindu, 27 April 2003.
^ John, Paul (8 December 2013). "The itchy feet gene". The Times of
India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
^ Paul, John. "Pico Iyer's Gujarati genes revealed". The Times of
India. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
^ a b "Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing". World Hum. 30
November 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
Tam Dalyell (10 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Raghavan Iyer". The
Independent. London. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
^ Saxon, Wolfgang (24 June 1995). "Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer, 65, An
Expert on East-West Cultures". The New York Times.
^ "About Pico Iyer".
Pico Iyer Journeys. Retrieved 27 September
^ Iyer 2008, p. 274.
^ Brenner, Angie; "Global Writer, Heart & Soul – Interview with
Pico Iyer", Wild River Review, 19 November 2007.
Pico Iyer – The Art of Stillness". On Being with Krista Tippett.
Retrieved 15 June 2015.
^ April 1993 issue of Harper's.
^ List of articles[permanent dead link] in Time.
Pico Iyer (5 January 1987). "Corazon Aquino". Time Magazine.
Archived from the original on 20 December 2007. Retrieved 26 March
^ program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009.
^ Full listing at "About Pico Iyer", picoiyerjourneys.com.
^ Volumes for 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012.
^ Volumes for 2001, 2006, 2012.
^ Best American Travel Writing 2004; Best Spiritual Writing 2010.
^ 2011 edition.
^ The Hindu, 7 November 2006.
^ Utne Reader, January/February 1995.
^ The New Yorker, May 1997 issue on Indian writing, "Briefly
picoiyerjourneys.com – Official website
An interview with
Pico Iyer in Nara, Japan on Notebook on Cities and
An interview with
Pico Iyer in Los Angeles on Notebook on Cities and
Pico Iyer at TED
Pico Iyer, "The mysterious man who gave me Japan", BBC Travel, 20
ISNI: 0000 0001 2095 8185
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