Pico Iyer

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Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer 2.08.12 (6847745503).jpg
Iyer in 2012
BornSiddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer [1]
(1957-02-11) 11 February 1957 (age 65) [2]
Oxford, England
Occupation Essayist, novelist
Genre Non-fiction/fiction
Notable awards Guggenheim Fellowship, 2005 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Chapman University 2017.
Relatives Raghavan N. Iyer (father, deceased)
Nandini Iyer (mother)
Hiroko Takeuchi (wife)

Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist known chiefly 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 . He has been a contributor to Time, Harper's , The New York Review of Books , and The New York Times .


Early life

Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in Oxford, England, the son of Indian parents. His father was Raghavan N. Iyer, a philosopher and political theorist then enrolled in doctoral studies at the University of Oxford. [1] [3] His mother is the religious scholar Nandini Nanak Mehta. [1] He is the great-great-grandson of Indian Gujarati writer Mahipatram Nilkanth. [4] [5] Both of his parents grew up in India then went to England for tertiary education. [6] His name is a combination of the Buddha's name, Siddhartha and that of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola. [7]

When Iyer was seven, in 1964, his family moved to California, when his father started working with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a California-based think tank, and started teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara. [6] [8] [9] For over a decade, Iyer moved between schools and college in England and his parents' home in California. [7]

He was a King's Scholar at Eton College, and studied at Magdalen College, Oxford and was awarded a congratulatory double first in English literature in 1978. He then received an A.M. in literature from Harvard University in 1980. He received the Oxbridge M.A. in 1982. In 2017, along with Plácido Domingo and Mario Vargas Llosa, he was awarded an honorary doctorate (in Humane Letters) by Chapman University.[ citation needed ]


Iyer taught writing and literature at Harvard before joining Time in 1982 as a writer on world affairs. Since then he has travelled widely, from North Korea to Easter Island, and from Paraguay to Ethiopia, while writing 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, 2014, 2016 and 2019 [see ted.com] and has twice been a Fellow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He appeared in a commercial for "Incredible India" in 2007.[ citation needed ]

In 2019, he served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, Guest Director of the Telluride Film Festival. [10] [11] He was also the first writer-in-residence at Raffles Hotel Singapore, where he released his book This Could be Home (2019), which explores Singapore's heritage through its landmarks. [12]

Writing themes

Iyer's writings build on his growing up in a combination of English, American, and Indian cultures. Travel is a key theme in most of his works. In one of his works, The Global Soul (2000) he takes on the international airport as a central subject, along with associated jet lag, displacement and cultural mingling. As a travel writer, he often writes of living between the cracks and outside fixed categories. Many of his books have been about trying to see from within some society or way of life, but from an outsider's perspective. He has filed stories from Bhutan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Cuba, Argentina, Japan, and North Korea [13] Some of the topics that he explores in his works include revolution in Cuba, Sufism, Buddhist Kyoto, and global disorientation. In his own words from a 1993 article in Harper's , "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 overnight bag." [14] His writing alternating between the monastery and the airport, the Indian writer Pradeep Sebastian writes about Iyer, as "Thomas Merton on a frequent flier pass aiming to bring new global energies and possibilities into non-fiction". [15]

He has written numerous pieces on world affairs for Time , including cover stories, and the "Woman of the Year" story on Corazon Aquino in 1986. [16] [17] 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. [18] He has contributed liner-notes for four Leonard Cohen albums. His books have appeared in 23 languages so far, including Turkish, Russian, and Indonesian. He has also written introductions to more than 70 books, including works by R. K. Narayan, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Matthiessen, and Isamu Noguchi. [19] He also writes regularly on sport, film, religion and the convergence of mysticism and globalism.[ citation needed ]

He has appeared seven times in the annual Best Spiritual Writing anthology, [20] and three times in the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology, [21] and has served as guest editor for both. [22] He has also appeared in the Best American Essays anthology. [23]

The Utne Reader named him in 1995 as one of 100 Visionaries worldwide who could change your life, [24] while the New Yorker observed that "As a guide to far-flung places, Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed." [25]

Personal life

Iyer has been based since 1992 in Nara, Japan, [26] where he lives with his Japanese wife, Hiroko Takeuchi, [2] [27] and her two children from an earlier marriage. His book, The Lady and the Monk (1991), was a memoir and a reflection of his relationship with Takeuchi. [28] His family home in Santa Barbara burned down due to a wildfire in 1990. Reflecting on this event, in his words, “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.” He splits his time between Japan, and California. Asked if he feels rooted and accepted as a foreigner (regarding his current life in Japan) Iyer notes:

"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." [29]

Iyer has known the 14th Dalai Lama since he was in his late teens, when he accompanied his father to Dharamshala, India, in 1974. In discussions about his spirituality, Iyer has mentioned not having a formal meditation practice, but practicing regular solitude, visiting a remote hermitage near Big Sur several times a year. [30]




Book reviews

YearReview articleWork(s) reviewed
2007Iyer, Pico (June 28, 2007). "'A new kind of mongrel fiction'". The New York Review of Books. 54 (11): 36–37, 40–41. Ondaatje, Michael (2007). Divisadero . McClelland and Stewart.

Selected introductions


  1. 1 2 3 "Raghavan Iyer, Political Science: Santa Barbara, 1930-1995", Calisphere, University of California.
  2. 1 2 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 16 February 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  3. Rukun Advani, "Mahatma for Sale", The Hindu, 27 April 2003.
  4. John, Paul (8 December 2013). "The itchy feet gene". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  5. Paul, John. "Pico Iyer's Gujarati genes revealed". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  6. 1 2 "Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing". World Hum. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Pico Iyer — The Urgency of Slowing Down". The On Being Project. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  8. Tam Dalyell (10 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Raghavan Iyer" . The Independent . London. Archived from the original on 26 May 2022. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  9. Saxon, Wolfgang (24 June 1995). "Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer, 65, An Expert on East-West Cultures". The New York Times.
  10. "Pico Iyer — Journalism". journalism.princeton.edu. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  11. "46th Annual Telluride Film Festival: Guest Director Pico Iyer". Telluride Inside... and Out. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  12. "Raffles Writers Residency - Pico Iyer | British Council Singapore". www.britishcouncil.sg. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  13. "Pico Iyer". The Gould Center for Humanistic Studies. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  14. April 1993 issue of Harper's.
  15. The Hindu, 7 November 2006.
  16. List of articles in Time.
  17. Pico Iyer (5 January 1987). "Corazon Aquino". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 20 December 2007. Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  18. program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009.
  19. Full listing at "About Pico Iyer", picoiyerjourneys.com.
  20. Volumes for 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012.
  21. Volumes for 2001, 2006, 2012.
  22. Best American Travel Writing 2004; Best Spiritual Writing 2010.
  23. 2011 edition.
  24. Utne Reader, January/February 1995.
  25. The New Yorker, May 1997 issue on Indian writing, "Briefly Noted".[ page needed ]
  26. "About Pico Iyer". Pico Iyer Journeys. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  27. Iyer 2008, p. 274.
  28. Altman, Anna. "Pico Iyer's Japanese Love Story, from Spring to "Autumn Light"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 October 2020.
  29. Brenner, Angie; "Global Writer, Heart & Soul – Interview with Pico Iyer", Wild River Review , 19 November 2007.
  30. "Pico Iyer Journeys". Pico Iyers Journeys. Retrieved 21 March 2020.

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