- Kira Salak
name =Kira Salak
September 4, 1971
birthplace = Westmont, Illinois
Travel Writing, Action, Adventure, Literary Journalism, Creative Nonfiction, [Fiction] , Literary Fiction, New Journalism, Travel, Literature, Woman's Literature, Woman's Nonfiction, Reportage, Magazine Writing, Freelance Writing, Freelance Magazine Writing
subject = Congo, Peru, Iran, Bhutan, Mali, Libya, Mexico, Alaska, Burma, Papua New Guinea, Montana, Mountain Gorilla, Congo War, Snowman Trail, Bhutan, Ayahuasca
notableworks = The White Mary
"Places of Darkness"
The Cruelest Journey
awards = awd | award=PEN Literary Award | year=2004 | title=Places of Darkness
awd | award=National Geographic Emerging Explorer Award | year=2005
awd | award= Lowell Thomas Gold Award for Environmental Reporting | year=2004 | title=Places of Darkness
awd | award= Lowell Thomas Gold Award for Best Magazine Article | year=2007 | title="Iran: Travels In Hostile Territory"
awd | award=Best American Travel Writing (Houghton-Mifflin) | year=2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
awd | award= New York Times Book Review Notable Travel Book of 2001 | year=2001 | title=Four Corners
awd | award=Best New American Voices 2001 (Harcourt) | year=2001
awd | award=AWP Prague Fellowship Award in Nonfiction | year=2001 | title="Making Rain"
awd | Writers at Work Fellowship Award in Nonfiction| year=2000 | title="Making Rain"
website = http://www.kirasalak.com/
Kira Salak is a
writerand adventurer. She is described by the National Geographic Society's website as being the "first documented person to kayaksolo 966km down the Niger river"cite web
title=Kira Salak, Writer/Adventurer
publisher=National Geographic Society
pages=] and by the "New York Times" as "a real-life
Lara Croft"cite news
publisher="New York Times"
accessdate=2008-06-20] . Published works include ' and '.
One of five people in the world to receive a 2005 National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer Award, Salak has traveled solo in almost every continent, visiting some of the world's remotest or most inhospitable places, including
Madagascar, Borneo, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She cycled nearly 800 miles across Alaskato the Arctic Ocean. Salak has been selected by the Library of Congressfor its "Women Who Dare" publications, which highlight the world's top women explorers and leaderscite web |url=http://www.kirasalak.com/About.html |title=About Kira Salak ] .
Kira Salak has won the PEN Award for journalism and has appeared five times in "
Best American Travel Writing". She is a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventuremagazine and was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea; "Four Corners", her non-fiction account of that trip, was a " New York Times" Notable Travel Book of 2001. She has a Ph.D. in English and her fiction has appeared in " [Best New American Voices] "] and other publications. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in such publications as " National Geographic", " Travel & Leisure", " Best Women's Travel Writing" and The " New York Times Magazine" ] .
Kira Salak was born on September 4, 1971. She grew up in
Westmont, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. Her mother was a waitress. Her father repaired mainframe computers. As a way to deal with her parents’ tumultuous marriage, her father’s mental illness, and a chaotic home life, Salak withdrew into the imaginary worlds of her fictional characters. Salak has described herself as being a shy child who suffered major depression from a very young age, writing becoming her only “voice” ] .
When Salak was 13, her parents sent her to boarding school in
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Naturally athletic, Salak surprised school officials with her running abilities, winning every race she entered. When only 14, she won state in cross-countrycite news |first=Dale |last=Willenbrink |title=High School Cross Country |url= |publisher=Milwaukee Journal |date= |date=1985-11-03 ] and set the state track record for the one-mile ] . Colleges offered her athletics scholarships and she was groomed for the national and Olympic trials. The pressure overwhelmed Salak. Spiraling into severe depression and anxiety, she made the difficult decision to quit running. In her first book, "Four Corners", she writes of the reaction to her choice: “I felt as if I’d let down the entire world. All of the people pleased with the Runner I had become — parents, mentors, relatives — wanted to know what I would do with myself now…. People warned me that life only offered one shot at glory.”]
Salak discovers solo travel
Salak admits that feelings of inadequacy from her difficult childhood probably led to her interest in adventure travel: “I grew up with very low self-esteem, and when I started backing alone in places like central Africa, I finally felt competent at something. I woke up to myself. I realized how much I had underestimated myself and my potential.”cite web |url=http://www.artistslookingahead.com/contact.htm |title=Artists looking ahead interview with Kira Salak |year=2008 |month=07 ] When she was 19 and studying abroad in Europe, she discovered solo travel for the first time, backpacking around
Egypt. Enjoying the unfamiliarity of the experience, she saved up money for a trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
When she was 20, Salak backpacked alone through eastern and central Africa and Madagascar, and was nearly gang-raped by rebel soldiers in civil war-torn
Mozambique. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of her life, leaving her psychologically scarred for years. Still, Salak continued to travel to some of the world’s most dangerous places. ] “Such an experience [as Mozambique] might have turned others off to travel,” she wrote in the introduction to her novel, "The White Mary", “yet, as a woman, I’d found solo travel liberating and empowering — every day, it felt as if I were unearthing new strengths within me that I had never known existed. Not wanting to let that terrifying event in Mozambique stop me from following my passion, I started saving up money for a new trip—to Papua New Guinea.” cite web |url=http://www.kirasalak.com/WhiteMaryAbout.html |title=KIRA'S COMMENTS ON "THE WHITE MARY" ]
Salak’s writing career
At the age of 24, Salak took a year off graduate school to backpack around Papua New Guinea, a notoriously dangerous Pacific Island nation. She became the first woman to cross the country, a trip described in her first book, "Four Corners: One Woman’s Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea"cite news |first=Jeffery |last=Trachtenberg |title=Imaginary Journey |url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121702303930685891.html?mod=2_1167_1 |publisher=Wall Street Journal|date=2008-07-26 ] .
In 2001, the editor-at-large of National Geographic Adventure magazine, Stephen Byers, discovered Salak’s book about Papua New Guinea and asked her to write for the magazinecite news |first=Jake |last=Sturm |title=Interview with Kira Salak for Wikipedia Entry | date= =2008-07-25 ] . Thus began her freelance career. Salak quickly gained a reputation for being one of America’s toughest woman adventurers, surviving war zones, coup attempts and life-threatening bouts with malaria and cholera. Wrote the "New York Times", “Salak is a tough, real life Lara Croft” ] . "
Book Magazine" described her as “the gutsiest — and some say, craziest — woman adventurer of our day.”cite news |first=Joanna |last=Smith Rakoff |title=The Woman's Perspective in Adventrue Writing |url= |publisher=Book Magazine | date= 2003-05 |language= |quote= |archiveurl= |archivedate= ] In 2005, the National Geographic Society awarded Salak with an Emerging Explorer award.cite news |title=Kira Salak, Writer/Adventurer Emerging Explorer |url=http://www.nationalgeographic.com/field/explorers/kira-salak.html |publisher=National Geographic |date=2005-03 ]
Salak writes regularly for National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic, and other magazines. She has traveled to many countries, including
Iran, Rwanda, Libya, Burma, Borneo, Ugandaand Peru.cite web |url=http://keywestliteraryseminar.org/lit/past/adventure-travel/p_kirasalak.htm
title=Key West Literary Seminar Kira Salak Panelist Bio |year=2006 ] In 2003, she convinced some Ukrainian gun-runners to fly her to war-ravaged eastern Congo. Salak stayed in the Congolese town of Bunia, which was taken over by child soldiers, and experienced “the worst that human beings could do to each other, an endless parade of barbarism.” ] She received a PEN literary award for her article about that experience,cite web |url= http://penusa.org/go/awards/winners/2004-literary-awards-winners/ |title=2004 PEN Award Winners ] the horror leaving her with
post-traumatic stress disorderand haunting memories that are vividly recounted in her first novel, "The White Mary".
Salak turns to fiction writing
Salak reports that she first started writing fiction when she was six. After the death of her brother, Marc. in 2005, Salak took a year off from her magazine work to write her first novel "The White Mary" ] . In an interview, she described the experience:
:"I wrote the entire book not long after my brother died. It was like an obsession. I lived in a tiny basement apartment in
Columbia, Missouri, unemployed for a year. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. It was a very private experience. I almost feel that the book wasn’t so much written by me, but channeled through me."cite news |first=Michael |last=Finkel |title="Here There Be Monsters" | url =http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2008/08/kira-salak/michael-finkel-text |publisher=National Geographic Adventure |date= 2008-08 ]
Before her novel came out, Salak’s short stories were published in such literary journals as "
Prairie Schooner", " The Massachusetts Review", " Quarterly West" and " Witness". Her short story "Beheadings", about a war correspondent’s search for her lost brother, won a place in the prestigious anthology Best New American Voices. ]
Kira Salak received her B.F.A. in writing, literature and publishing from
Emerson College. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing (fiction) from the University of Arizona. In 2004, she graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, with a Ph.D. in English; her two areas of specialization were 20th century American prose literature and travel literature ] .
Kira Salak has traveled solo to almost every continent, visiting the world’s remotest places, including Madagascar, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Borneo. She was the first person to kayak solo 600 miles down West Africa’s Niger River to
Timbuktuin Mali, and she was the first woman to cross Papua New Guinea, following the route taken by British explorer Ivan Champion in 1927. In 2003, she cycled 800 miles across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean, and in 2007 she was one of just a handful of people in the world to successfully complete Bhutan’s 216-mile Snowman Trek, the hardest trek in the Himalayas.cite web |url=http://www.kirasalak.com/About.html |title=Kira Salak About Page ] Book Magazine has called her “the gutsiest—and some say, craziest—woman adventurer of our day.” ]
Salak is the author of three books. Her novel, "The White Mary", is being published by Henry Holt in August, 2008. Her memoir "Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea" (National Geographic Books) was chosen by the "New York Times" as a Notable Travel Book of the Year in 2001; her book "The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu" was published by National Geographic Books in November 2004. Her books have been translated into a number of languages, including Korean, Polish, Italian, and Dutch. ]
Salak was one of five people in the world to receive a 2005 National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer Award. ] She is a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine. Her article about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war won her the prestigious 2004 PEN Award in Journalism. ] The Library of Congress chose her for inclusion in its “Women Who Dare” publications, highlighting the world’s top women explorers and leaders. cite book |last=Hannon |first=Sharon |title=Women Explorers (Women Who Dare) |url=http://www.amazon.com/Women-Explorers-Who-Dare/dp/0764938924/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217570285&sr=8-1 ] Salak’s articles have been nominated for National Magazine Awards in the Best Feature, Best Essay, and Best Reporting categories. She has been awarded two Lowell Thomas Gold Awards for Best Foreign Article and Environmental Reporting, a Writers at Work Fellowship in nonfiction, and the AWP/ Prague Fellowship Award in creative nonfiction. She has written for such publications as National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, New York Times Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Backpacker; her work has appeared five times in Best American Travel Writing. Her fiction was selected for Best New American Voices (judged by Charles Baxter). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various anthologies, including Adrenaline 2002: The Year's Best Stories of Adventure and Survival, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, and Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction. ]
Salak was profiled by the CBS Sunday Morning Show. She has appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s prime-time news show, “The Hour “ with George Stroumboulopoulos.cite news |first=George |last=Stroumboulopoulos |publisher=CBC The Hour |date=2005-06-07] She has been profiled in: The New York Times Book Review, ] Glamourcite news |first= Daryl|last=Chen |title="Guts 101" |url=http://www.glamour.com/ |publisher=Glamour Magazine |date=2005-04 ] , Vogue, Voguecite news |title="Passionate Nomads:Adventure Tales by Women" |url=http://www.vogue.com/ |publisher=Vogue |date=2003-03 ] U.K., The Observercite news |title="For My Next Trip" |publisher=London Observer |date=2005-05-15 ] , London Times, NY Post, Travel & Leisurecite news |first=Hannah |last=Wallace |title="Women's Travel Special:Chick Lit" |publisher=Travel and Leisure |date= 2004-11] , National Geographic, Book Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, and other places.
The White Mary: A Novel
For years, war reporter Marika Vecera has risked her life, traveling to the world’s most dangerous places to offer a voice for the oppressed and suffering. But one day her luck nearly runs out: while covering the genocide in war-ravaged Congo, she is kidnapped by rebel soldiers and barely escapes with her life. Marika makes it home to Boston, where she left behind a burgeoning relationship with Seb, a psychologist who has offered her glimpses of a better world. But her chance for a loving, stable relationship with him is tested as she vows to continue her risky work at whatever cost.
It isn’t long before Marika receives devastating news: Robert Lewis, a famous, Pulitzer-winning journalist, has committed suicide. She always deeply admired Lewis for his courageous reporting on behalf of the world’s forgotten. Wanting—needing—to understand what could have caused him to take his own life, she stops her magazine work to write his biography. In the course of doing her research, a curious letter arrives from a missionary who claims to have seen Lewis alive in a remote jungle in Papua New Guinea. The information shocks Marika. She wonders, What if Lewis isn’t really dead?
Marika is determined to find out if the letter is true. She leaves Seb to embark on her hardest journey yet, through one of the most exotic and unknown places on earth. She must rely on the skills and wisdom of a mysterious witchdoctor, Tobo, who introduces her to a magical world ruled by demons and spirits, and governed by strict taboos. Marika’s quest for Robert Lewis carries her not only into the heart of New Guinea, but into the depths of the human soul. What she learns about herself—and life—will change her forever.
Following the route taken by British explorer Ivan Champion in 1927, and amid breathtaking landscapes and wildlife, Salak traveled across this remote Pacific island-often called the last frontier of adventure travel-by dugout canoe and on foot. Along the way, she stayed in a village where cannibals m was still practiced behind the backs of the missionaries, met the leader of the OPM-the separatist guerrilla movement opposing the Indonesian occupation of Western New Guinea-and undertook an epic trek through the jungle. The New York Times said "Kira Salak is tough, a real-life Lara Croft." And Edward Marriott, proclaimed Four Corners to be "A travel book that transcends the genre. It is, like all the best travel narratives, a resonant interior journey, and offers wisdom for our times."
Kira Salak is a young woman with a history of seeking impossible challenges. She grew up relishing the exploits of the great Scottish explorer Mungo Park and set herself the daunting goal of retracing his fatal journey down West Africa's Niger river for 600 miles to Timbuktu. In so doing she became the first person to travel alone from Mali's Old Segou to "the golden city of the Middle Ages," and, legend has it, the doorway to the end of the world. In the face of the hardships she knew were to come, it is amazing that she could have been so sanguine about her journey's beginning: "I have the peace and silence of the wide river, the sun on me, a breeze licking my toes, the current as negligible as a faint breath. Timbuktu seems distant and unimaginable." Enduring tropical storms, hippos, rapids, the unrelenting heat of the Sahara desert and the mercurial moods of this notorious river, she traveled solo through one of the most desolate regions in Africa where little had changed since Mungo Park was taken captive by Moors in 1797. Dependent on locals for food and shelter, each night she came ashore to stay in remote mud-hut villages on the banks of the Niger, meeting Dogan sorceresses and tribes who alternately revered and reviled her- so remarkable was the sight of an unaccompanied white woman paddling all the way to Timbuktu. Indeed, on one harrowing stretch she barely escaped harm from men who chased her in wooden canoes, but she finally arrived, weak with dysentery, but triumphant, at her destination. There, she fulfilled her ultimate goal by buying the freedom of two Bella slaves with gold. This unputdownable story is also a meditation on self-mastery by a young adventuress without equal, whose writing is as thrilling as her life.
Salak has said that she prefers reading the classic modernist writers of the 20th century (20th Century American Literature was the primary field of study for her Ph.D.), believing such writers had the greatest influence on her work. According to Salak, “The modernists explore deep themes and serious philosophical questions. They have an ability to touch my soul like few contemporary writers can.” ]
In an interview, Salak said that her all-time favorite piece of writing is the short story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin because she “admire [s] its poignancy and sincerity, and its ability to elicit a deep emotional response.” ]
Some of Salak’s favorite fiction writers: J.D. Salinger, William Styron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Katherine Ann Porter, Somerset Maugham, Tim O’Brien, Michael Cunningham, Charlotte Bronte. ]
Salak’s favorite nonfiction writer is Polish war correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski, whose real-life exploits informed the life of her Lewis character in The White Mary. ] Some of her other favorite nonfiction writers: Michael Herr, Irvin Yalom, Bruce Chatwin, Frank Conroy. ]
Salak’s fiction and nonfiction writing style has been widely characterized as “emotional” and “honest.” Says Salak about her introspective writing, “What interests me [in writing] is the inner journey. I find the more open you are about your vulnerabilities and failures—the more authentically human you are—the better you can relate to other people.” ] She spoke about the objective of her writing, and of artistic expression, in a 2008 interview:
I admire authenticity and sincerity wherever I can find it, so I couldn’t imagine writing any other way myself. One of the most influential quotes I ever read was in J.D. Salinger’s book Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenter: “Are you a writer or just a writer of rattling good stories? I mind getting a rattling good story from you. I want your loot.” That seems the quintessential dilemma that all writers—or artists—face. Do you worry about making money and entertaining the masses, or do you listen to your heart and speak its truth? ]
In 2004, Salak went to Peru on assignment for the New York Times Magazine. While taking a shamanic tour for her article, she tried ayahuasca, a tincture made from jungle plants that produces visionary experiences.cite news |first=Kira |last=Salak |title="The Vision Seekers" |publisher=New York Times Magazine |date= 2004-09-12 ] Salak alleges that her lifelong depression “vanished” after drinking the ayahuasca:
It was as if a water-logged wool overcoat had been removed from my shoulders. There was a tangible, visceral feeling of release… There were no more morbid, incessant desires to die. Gone was the “suicidal ideation” that had made joy seem impossible for me, and made my life feel like some kind of punishment. I actually woke up in that hut in the sultry jungle of Peru desiring only to live. Wanting to live. Feeling hope for the first time in my life. It was, without a doubt, miraculous.cite web |url=http://www.kirasalak.com/Ayahuasca.html |title=Ayahuasca Healing in Peru ] Salak continues to travel regularly to Peru to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies. She maintains that ayahuasca has cured her of everything from migraines to anxiety disorders. Appearing in the March 2006 issue of National Geographic Adventure is her article, “Hell and Back,” [cite web |url=http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0603/features/peru.html |title=Peru: Hell and Back ] about ayahuasca, which was reportedly the most popular article the magazine had ever published. ]
* [http://www.nationalgeographic.com/field/explorers/kira-salak.html National Geographic magazine profile]
* [http://www.kirasalak.com/ Personal website of Kira Salak]
* [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121702303930685891.html?mod=2_1167_1 Wall Street Journal Review of Salak's The White Mary]
* [http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2008/08/kira-salak/michael-finkel-text National Geographic Adventure Review of Salak's The White Mary]
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