Stark, Peter 1954-
STARK, Peter 1954-
PERSONAL: Born 1954; father a sailor, mother a hiker and skier; married Amy Ragsdale (a dancer and choreographer); children: Molly, Skyler.
ADDRESSES: Home—1042 Monroe St., Missoula, MT 59802-3812.
CAREER: Author, journalist, and outdoor adventurer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best American Essays notable essay designation, 1997, for "As Freezing Persons Recollect the Snow"; nominated for National Magazine Award.
Driving to Greenland: Arctic Travel, Nordic Sport, and Other Ventures into the Heart of Winter, Burford Books (Short Hills, NJ), 1994.
(Editor) Ring of Ice: True Tales of Adventure, Exploration, and Arctic Life, Lyons Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Stark has also had articles published in Outside, Smithsonian, and the New Yorker.
SIDELIGHTS: An outdoor enthusiast, and a former downhill ski racer and adventurer, Peter Stark has written of his experiences, and the adventures of others, in numerous magazine articles and books. He grew up in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with parents who had their own thrill-seeking tendencies. His father crewed a windjammer around Cape Horn, and his mother was an experienced hiker and skier. Stark now lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife, Amy Ragsdale, and his two children, Molly and Skyler.
In Stark's first book, Driving to Greenland: Arctic Travel, Nordic Sport, and Other Ventures into the Heart of Winter, Stark collects twelve essays, the first of which is autobiographical. Many of the remaining eleven were previously published by Smithsonian or Outside magazines. Stark divides the book into three sections: winter sports, arctic travel, and snow and ice. With tales of ski jumping, dog sledding, kayakmaking, and Arctic narwhal-hunting, he tells of his adventures in Greenland and of his travels along the way. He also includes a chapter on snowflakes, as well as a chapter on ice, good and bad. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Stark successfully avoids the problem of ego, common in adventure writing, and instead "melts into the landscape like a flake into a snow bank."
In 2001 Stark edited a collection of stories titled Ring of Ice: True Tales of Adventure, Exploration, and Arctic Life. Here he combines stories from Arctic explorers as well as from natives, creating a rare record of indigenous Arctic peoples' works. He begins each selection with an Inuit song or story, and he provides one section of Inuit accounts regarding their experiences with newcomers. The explorers brought gifts like needles and knives as well as tobacco, alcohol, and tuberculosis. But the book nonetheless includes positive encounters between the natives and explorers, wherein the latter were genuinely interested in learning about the former and their ways of life. Stark also includes Inuit poems, which, as Russell A. Potter noted in the Arctic Book Review, provide "a vital counterpoint to the old Western notion that the Arctic did not exist until it was 'discovered.'"
Stark used an article he wrote for Outside magazine titled "As Freezing Persons Recollect Snow" as a starting point for a new book, Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance. With chapters on altitude sickness, scurvy, dehydration, malaria, hypothermia, the bends, avalanche suffocation, mountain sickness, jellyfish stings, falling, and heatstroke, the book analyzes what happens to the human body when confronted with such emergencies. Each of the eleven chapters features a separate episode and human subject, only some of whom survive. In his Las Vegas Mercury review, John Ziebell calls the book "a detailed examination of some really bad experiences you don't ever, ever want to undergo."
In order to write the book, Stark interviewed survivors of avalanche burial and near-drownings, and reported that, generally, those who had been close to death had two thoughts: a determination to live, and consideration for how their families and friends would deal with their deaths if they did not. Ziebell noted that although Stark clearly enjoys telling these tales, he researched "wilderness medicine" extensively in order to create these combinations of fact and fiction. "I filled thirty-five yellow legal pads with research notes on the physiology alone," Stark said in an interview with Bookreporter.com. "Weaving . . . the science into the narrative line was a tricky and delicate thing until I got the hang of it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Arctic Book Review, fall, 2000, Russell A. Potter, review of Rings of Ice: True Tales of Adventure, Exploration and Arctic Life.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1994, review of Driving to Greenland: Arctic Travel, Nordic Sport, and Other Ventures into the Heart of Winter, p. 920.
Las Vegas Mercury, February 7, 2002, John Ziebell, review of Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance.