An Author with a Passion for the North

An Author with a Passion for the North

Posted on November 14 by Joanna Kafarowski in Non-fiction
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We had a couple questions for the author of Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame. Here's what Joanna Kafarowski had to say.

What inspired you to become a writer?

When I was young I wanted to be a gypsy, a writer, or a doctor. Strangely enough, I’ve managed to become all three! The written word was sacrosanct to me from an early age. I hail from a family where physical activity meant a brisk walk to the library, or snuggling into a cozy chair to read. I loved books, and reading and writing came naturally to me. I wrote poetry, and then progressed to freelance writing and book reviewing as an adult. But becoming a writer is something else entirely. Claiming that identity and feeling in your bones — that I was a writer — came later in life. As an adult I had written professionally, but it was only when the lightning bolt that was Louise Arner Boyd struck me, and I had actually completed her biography, that I truly felt I was a writer. I had paid my dues and walked through the fire of writing and re-writing, being rejected by publishers, doubting myself time and again, and then, emerging with a marvellous story to tell, I knew this was my path.

How did you research your book?

This is the first comprehensive biography of Louise Arner Boyd, so it had to be done right. There were no previous biographies of any consequence to consult, so I was in unknown waters right from the beginning. Neither Miss Boyd nor her siblings had children, so family descendants were few and far between. Despite her extraordinary accomplishments she is virtually unknown, so I had to be persistent and creative in searching out documents and artifacts related to her life. I travelled extensively across Scandinavia, Europe, and North America tracking down individuals and visiting the places that were meaningful to her. But, for me, the landscape was key. Like Louise Arner Boyd, I have a passion for the North and have worked in the Arctic for many years. I, too, was beguiled by the remote beauty of the stark wilderness. I employed the usual detective skills of any biographer, but my grounding in the North was critical to my understanding of why she launched her daring expeditions in the first place and why she returned again and again.


Were there parts of the writing process that terrified you or left you exhilarated?

Yes! Both — all the time! Conducting research and writing the first few drafts is largely an academic exercise when you’re not sure if anyone is going to publish it. Once I had signed a contract with my publisher, everything became real. I knew that every word I wrote, every photograph I chose to include, literally every decision I made regarding the book, would exist in perpetuity. The fact that this was Miss Boyd’s first real biography was a tremendous burden and honour at the same time. You won’t be surprised to learn that this book took over ten years to research and write. Even now, I am not quite ready to let it go.

Ten years is a long time to live with someone in your head, especially if you have a short attention span like me! But learning new details about Miss Boyd was a joyful process at the beginning and at the end. Exhilaration is a strong word, but I experienced it when I returned to the Arctic landscape that we both loved; when I gazed out the window of her bedroom; when I forded the creek in the background of her childhood home; when I swept the floor in her family crypt. I felt closest to her in the places where she had been and where I knew she was guiding my path.

Joanna Kafarowski

Posted by Kendra on December 13, 2016
Joanna Kafarowski photo

Joanna Kafarowski

Joanna Kafarowski, Ph.D., is an independent scholar and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, an Affiliate Member of the American Geographical Society, and a Member of the Society of Woman Geographers. She is an inveterate traveller and currently divides her time between Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and Marple, Cheshire, England.