He pulled a hat trick as poet, panelist, and spotlight author! Huge thanks to the Wilkinson Public Library for making Peter's appearance in Telluride a reality.
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PETER HELLER Peter is a longtime contributor to NPR, and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He is an award winning adventure writer and the author of four books of literary nonfiction. He lives in Denver. Heller was born and raised in New York. He attended high school in Vermont and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he became an outdoorsman and whitewater kayaker. He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry, he won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem “The Psalms of Malvine.” He has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and world class pizza deliverer.
BOOKS Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River In the winter of 2002 he joined, on the ground team, the most ambitious whitewater expedition in history as it made its way through the treacherous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet. The gorge—three times deeper than the Grand Canyon—is sacred to Buddhists, and is the inspiration for James Hilton’s Shangri La. It is so deep there are tigers and leopards in the bottom and raging 25,000 foot peaks at the top, and so remote and difficult to traverse that a mythical waterfall, sought by explorers since Victorian times, was documented for the first time in 1998 by a team from National Geographic. He chronicled what has been called The Last Great Adventure Prize for Outside. It garnered a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, was number three on Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List” of all pop culture, and a Denver Post review ranked it “up there with any adventure writing ever written.”
The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals In December, 2005, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure, he joined the crew of an eco-pirate ship belonging to the radical environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it sailed to Antarctica to hunt down and disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet. The ship is all black, sails under a jolly Roger, and two days south of Tasmania the engineers came on deck and welded a big blade called the Can Opener to the bow—a weapon designed to gut the hulls of ships. Heller recounts fierce gales, forty foot seas, rammings, near-sinkings, and a committed crew’s clear-eyed willingness to die to save a whale.
Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave A memoir, about surfing from California down the coast of Mexico. Can a man drop everything in the middle of his life, pick up a surfboard and, apprenticing himself to local masters, learn to ride a big, fast wave in six months? Can he learn to finally love and commit to someone else? Can he care for the oceans, which are in crisis? The answers are in. The book won a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which called it a “powerful memoir…about love: of a woman, of living, of the sea.” Kook won the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.
The Dog Stars Peter’s debut novel, a breakout bestseller, has been published in 18 languages. Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life–something like his old life–exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return–not enough fuel to get him home–following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face–in the people he meets, and in himself–is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for. Playboy called it “One of the most powerful reads in years.”
The Painter Peter’s second novel is an achingly beautiful, wildly suspenseful second novel about an artist trying to outrun his past. Jim Stegner has seen his share of violence and loss. Years ago he shot a man in a bar. His marriage disintegrated. He grieved the one thing he loved. In the wake of tragedy, Jim, a well-known expressionist painter, abandoned the art scene of Santa Fe to start fresh in the valleys of rural Colorado. Here he spends his days painting and fly fishing, trying to find a way to live with the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. He works with a lovely model. His paintings fetch excellent prices. But one afternoon, on a dirt road, Jim comes across a man beating a small horse, and a brutal encounter rips his quiet life wide open. Fleeing Colorado, trying to outrun what he has done, Jim sets off for New Mexico, chased by men set on retribution, tormented by his own relentless conscience. A stunning, savage novel of art and violence, love and grief, The Painter is the story of a man who longs to transcend the shadows in his heart, a man intent on using the losses he has suffered to create a meaningful life. LitFest Faculty Authors: Amy Irvine and Craig Childs