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Boulder Book Store brings back author events, hosts global activist Kiri Westby Wednesday

Boulder-born humanitarian released 'Fortune Favors The Brave' in March

Mollie Theis checks out books on sale at the Boulder Book Store, on the Pearl Street Mall, on March 14, 2020. Wednesday, the store will host its second in-person event since March when human rights activist Kiri Westby does a free book signing outside, followed by a discussion and Q&A inside. The discussion is $27, includes a copy of her book “Fortune Favors The Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir” and is limited to 12 attendees. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Local bibliophiles have a reason to rejoice.

Wednesday Boulder Book Store will welcome humanitarian and author Kiri Westby for a book signing and discussion focusing on her newly released book, “Fortune Favors The Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir” (Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster). On Thursday, the purveyor of literary gems kicked off its first in-store event since shuttering due to coronavirus when it hosted  Boulder-based horror author Stephen Graham Jones to celebrate his new work “The Only Good Indians.”

Kiri Westby, a human rights activist who was born and raised in Boulder, released her memoir “Fortune Favors The Brave” in March. Wednesday, Westby will hold a free book signing on the exterior of Boulder Book Store followed by a ticketed discussion and Q&A inside that is limited to 12 attendees. (Andrea Chavez/ Courtesy photo)

“Right now we’re only doing these sorts of events with local authors, and only when they feel safe and comfortable doing them,” said Stephanie Schindhelm, marketing and promotions manager for Boulder Book Store. “I haven’t scheduled any more than these two at the moment since cases are rising again, but once Colorado and Boulder County are back in a downward trend we’d be happy to do these again.”

The book signing, which is free and open to all, will take place outside of the store on the Pearl Street Mall starting at 3 p.m. Tickets to Westby’s 5 p.m. talk inside the store, which are limited to 12 guests, cost $27 and include a signed copy of her memoir.

“We won’t be able to have everyone who would want to attend under normal circumstances, but since she’ll be signing books outside the store leading up to the event, those who can’t attend can buy a book and have a moment with her while she signs,” Schindhelm said.

Born and raised in Boulder, as a Buddhist, Westby has gained attention for her work with women residing in villages in Nepal, refugee camps in The Democratic Republic of Congo and on the streets of Bogota, Colombia.

In 2007, at the age of 29, she made international headlines when she trekked to the Tibetan side of Mount Everest and staged a protest at the 17,000-foot base camp — demanding China’s occupation of Tibet end ahead of the Winter Olympics. She was detained by Chinese military and subjected to interrogation and torture — which she recounts in her latest release.

“Kiri (Westby) has led a truly amazing life and she’s got a lot of great energy that we’re thrilled to have in our store,” Schindhelm said. “And, I’m so glad that she’ll have the opportunity to celebrate her amazing life and story in our store with a small but safe and socially distanced crowd.”

The book cover for Kiri Westby’s book “Fortune Favors The Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir.” (Cover design by Cody Corcoran, Post Hill Press)

“I am thrilled that the Boulder Book Store was open to creating new ways to host in-person author events during the era of coronavirus,” said Westby.

Pre-pandemic, Westby had scheduled a 30-city tour, which was called off with book stores temporarily shuttering and many live events postponed.

“I was planning to come through my hometown of Boulder on the Road Trip Book Tour of 2020, which was going to be me and my family in our VW bus, livestreaming and sharing literary adventures from San Diego to New York City,” Westby said. “When the pandemic hit, and all of those plans went up in smoke, I was living in a small fishing village in Nayarit, Mexico, raising my kids bilingually and biculturally.”

Before even one case of COVID-19 was detected within the village where Westby was living, she witnessed the area take a major economic hit as tourism can to a halt. Her move back to Boulder made sense, as Westby and her husband, Phill Bartel, also own Rising Tide Tattoo Emporium at 3193 Walnut St. in Boulder.

“Understandably, violence ensued and we made the difficult decision to relocate to Boulder, with kids, dogs and the cat in tow,” Westby said. “We knew we could be of the most benefit, and the least burden, to both our Mexican and American communities from here.”

Her book, released March 3, has been praised by fellow activists such as Robert A.F. Tenzin Thurman and continues to receive high compliments from both critics and readers.

“I think the best feedback any writer can receive is for someone to say they ‘couldn’t put the book down,’” Westby said. “Then you’re sure it’s the craft of storytelling that grabbed them, no matter the subject. For us wordsmiths, that is like gold. When Academy Award-winning actor Ellen Burstyn wrote those very words and added ‘I really hated every time I had to set it down,’ it felt like she was physically grasping my hand. She took the entire journey with me and, although we’ve never met, she became part of the tapestry of feminine solidarity that the book is about.”

In the book, Westby reveals what led up to her embarking on the path of activism and also honestly recounts the mistakes she made along the way.

“While the stories I tell in ‘Fortune Favors The Brave’ were 30 years in the making, the actual process of crafting the book took about one year, from signing the contract to the hardcover hitting shelves, which is lightning fast in the book world,” Westby said.

Certain authors write from bustling coffee shops and others from serene home offices. Westby, in typical adventurer fashion, traveled far and wide to find the ideal spot to put her story to paper — quite literarily.

“Mostly that meant taking a small panga boat across the Bay of Banderas to the hidden town of Yelapa, which is only accessible by boat, and climbing up to a friend’s tree house on the edge of a cliff with no Wi-Fi, no cell service and no walls,” Westby said. “I would write like mad, pencil to paper, uninterrupted by the digital world, until I had fully tackled the particular chapters at hand. Then I would do my first polish while translating my chicken-scratch onto the computer.”

She would then travel nearly 40 minutes down a jungle path to the town’s lone internet cafe, where she would upload and email her latest chapters.

“That way, if the boat went down on my return — as they’ve been known to do — I wouldn’t lose all of that work to the bottom of the sea,” Westby said.

While the book is a memoir, for Westby it is just as much about relaying the powerful stories of the people she encountered on her journey of fighting for the greater good.

“As for compiling and remembering the stories, I relied on emails my mom saved while I was working and traveling for Urgent Action Fund For Women’s Human Rights and Students For A Free Tibet,” Westby said. “Many of those letters home contain dates and names, as well as the raw emotions I was experiencing at the time.”

She also revisited detailed journals she kept throughout the years, many of which were housed in her parents’ Mapleton Hill home where they have lived in Boulder since 1982.

Last summer, during the editing process of the book, Westby was visiting family in Boulder when she took an unlucky fall that resulted in three broken bones in her right leg. She went through surgery and recovered in her childhood home.

“My mom and I used the time to sort through decades of old photos and letters, some of which eventually made it into the book,” Westby said. “At the time, it felt like a huge inconvenience to all my plans, but now I am grateful for the hours it gave me to revisit my early memories.”

With her publishing house closed and her in-house publicist furloughed, Westby is brainstorming new ways to get her story to potential readers. She has plans to speak at several socially distant backyard book clubs this summer and looks forward to exploring the themes of the book on a deeper level within an intimate setting. She is also working on getting the book into the curriculum for advanced high school and college students.

“I think academic courses that examine social justice activism, women and armed conflict, and the power of nonviolent direct action will find the stories in ‘Fortune Favors The Brave’ both compelling and highly informative for younger readers,” Westby said.

The fact that her memoir that speaks of injustice, privilege and the significance of unity is released at a time of such unrest is not lost on Westby.

“When an unanticipated crisis arises, it is the community we build and the new systems we create together that ensure our survival and move us forward,” Westby said. “Many of the messages we’ve been taught in mainstream America center around individualism and survival of the fittest, but those attributes fail when it comes to surviving a plague or a war. Turns out, we need each other.  If we can be humble and wise enough to heed the lessons of activists and organizers who’ve come through crises before us, we may just come out of this stronger and more prepared for the future we collectively face.”

Throughout the pandemic, Westby has been writing consistently and is currently working on her second memoir that thoughtfully fuses protesting and parenting.

“Drawing parallels between working in war zones and modern American mothering — tired, invisible, traumatized and never-ending — ‘Mothering On The Edge’ is my account of balancing two home births, two home countries and two native languages while trying to raise anti-fascist, anti-racist kids during a global pandemic. Needless to say, I’m still working out the ending.”

Earth Sky Productions is making a documentary about Westby’s historic 2007 protest on Mount Everest, entitled “Where The Earth Meets The Sky,” that tells the lengthy backstory behind the demand for justice.

“In many ways, I wrote the book for my global activist family, to preserve some of the magic of the work we did together and to inspire the next wave of change-makers to rise up,” Westby said.

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