Phyllis Barber returns to BYU

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After traveling the world to places like India and Peru and exploring countless religions, 50 years of writing and self-discovery have brought Phyllis Barber back to her home state of Utah.

A well-known author and essayist, Barber came to BYU on Friday to share an essay with students and sign books as part of an author series held every Friday in the Harold B. Lee library at noon. Barber had not been back to BYU campus since she left after graduating.

“Fifty years ago I was a freshman here, and it’s hard to admit that 50 years have gone by but it is a pleasure to be back on campus,” Barber said. “I must say I was curious if I should wear a skirt because 50 years ago we weren’t allowed to wear pants. So I wore a skirt just to be safe.”

Courtney Beesly, a master’s student studying English, introduced Barber at the reading, and has read several of her books and essays. Beesly also said she admires Barber as not only a writer, but as a person.

“Her writing shows that she is a woman who has experienced things,” Beesly said. “Not only that, it shows that she has experienced things and taken copious mental notes. She is a woman who has tried to find the beauty and meaning in everything she does.”

Barber, whose book “Raw Edges: a Memoir” comes out next year, read from her essay “The Knife Handler.” The essay explores control, comfort zones, and a different place and religion that Barber experienced before writing the essay. It was one of many from a collection about the exploration of religion.

“It’s always been interesting to me to see how people explore divinity and their spirituality,” Barber said.

Following the reading, Barber had a question-and-answer session for the audience, where she spoke about obstacles, inspiration and symbols in her writing.

“I used to write much more symbolically, everything stood for something and then a lot of people couldn’t get what I was up to and the brilliance of my symbols just didn’t come out,” Barber said. “I like metaphor a lot, and I like to work with language. Language is the place where you find the most beauty, and I think you can get caught up in symbols.”

To end the discussion, Barber gave poignant advice and encouragement to students, writers and future writers.

“There will always be a need for good writing and for good thinking,” she said. “I think writing helps you see what you think. I totally believe in the rewriting process, but don’t kill yourself with it. Writing is a wonderful profession, and it’s a rich life.”

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