March is Women’s History Month. With that in mind, it is a pleasure to welcome our special guest.
Dr. Joanna Kafarowski is a Canadian independent scholar who has a passion for the North. She has worked extensively with Indigenous women in the Arctic regarding natural resource management issues and has participated in a Last Degree North Pole Expedition. She is the author of the first comprehensive biography of female polar explorer Louise Arner Boyd entitled, “The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame A Life of Louise Arner Boyd (Dundurn Press, 2017) and edited Gender, Culture and Northern Fisheries (Canadian Circumpolar Institute, 2009).
There’s quite a lot to read in this post, but it’s all extremely interesting. I’ve read this biography Joanna has written, and it’s a riveting story about a most unusual woman. I highly recommend it.
Now here is our Q & A
PS ~ You have such an impressive academic history that must have involved a tremendous amount of writing. (Congratulations on all of those accomplishments!) Did you always plan to publish something for the general public?
JK ~ Thank you for those kind words. I’ve written with so many different hats on that I guess it was inevitable! I’ve always written poetry; I was a freelance writer and book reviewer and of course, I did an awful lot of scholarly writing while at the university. I’ve been drawn to writing as a vocation since I was a child but so many other interesting projects took me down different paths. It wasn’t so much that I finally decided to write for the general public but that this particular story- this amazing life of female polar explorer Louise Arner Boyd took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t actually know if I would seek an academic or a general publisher for this book. I had interest expressed by both but finally decided to go with Dundurn Press which would reach a wider readership.
PS ~ What is it about Louise Arner Boyd that first intrigued you?
JK ~ As a geographer fascinated with the North, I am naturally drawn to tales of polar exploration. Of course, the vast majority of these books are written by men about men. All very exciting but I was thrilled by a few tantalizing details about a twentieth century woman polar explorer named Louise Arner Boyd who was also a geographer equally intrigued by the Arctic as I was. I identified with her to a certain degree and the more I learned about her accomplishments, the more chagrined I became that no full-length biography of her had been written. Her story hooked from the start and hasn’t let go yet!
PS ~ Please describe some of your research techniques.
JK ~ Great question! Writing a biography well means spending the time making sure that you have done your very best- following every lead, asking every question, looking at your subject from every perspective possible. Because this was the first comprehensive biography, it meant being even more thorough. I feel a responsibility not only to Miss Boyd herself but to future biographers of her who will consult my work. So one of my research techniques was to go wide initially and then go deep.
Because I shared a commitment to the field of geography with my subject, another research technique was to spend time walking in her footsteps- visiting her homes and neighbourhoods but, more importantly, grounding myself in the northern landscapes that resonated so deeply with her. This was of critical importance to me and enabled me to gain a deeper insight into her life and motivations as an explorer.
PS ~ How you did you weave the scientific details into this intriguing story? Was this a challenge initially or did it all flow with Louise’s personality?
JK ~ Once I had determined that the book would be best published for a general rather than an academic audience, I had to find the balance in the amount of scientific information I provided. In this regard, it was really helpful that I have a scholarly background and that I know my stuff. I had to make sure that I provided enough detail that readers understood how significant the contributions of Louise Arner Boyd were but not enough that they went to sleep. Part of the reason that I subtitled the book “A Life of Louise Arner Boyd” rather than “The Life of Louise Arner Boyd” was that I recognize there is so much scope for other LAB biographies- including a scholarly one. I’d love to read a book that goes into her scientific contributions in depth- and hope to do so in my lifetime!
PS ~ You certainly chose a fascinating and multi-faceted woman to study. Is there anything about publishing this story that has surprised you?
JK ~ During the ten plus years it took to bring this book to fruition, I was completely focused on research and writing. I actually thought very little about the book being published although this was certainly my intention. I assumed that once the book appeared, I would do a few book signings and make an appearance or two and that would be the end of it. I was actually quite shocked by how much promotional work I have had to do and for such an extended time period. This has had both advantages and disadvantages. I had to join social media for the first time in my life and this was a steep learning curve for me. It requires a phenomenal commitment of time and energy but also has reaped huge rewards. I now network regularly with a fantastic group of other writers (including you, Patricia!), explorers and historians around the world and this has been marvellous. Social media has been critical in spreading the news about my book and I have no doubt that part of the book’s success can be attributed to this. On the downside, it’s been challenging to impose limits on how much promoting I do- and to recognize when it’s time to scale back promoting your published book and turn to new research. It’s always a balancing act.
PS ~ You are so right about that, Joanna. Social media is critical to the promotion of our work and, I agree, it does offer us the opportunity to connect with a fantastic group of writers. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you online and I look forward to us meeting in person at some point since we live close to each other … when we are home in Canada!
Now, please share with us the exciting news about the cruise invitation you recently received.
JK ~ I am delighted to share the news that I have recently accepted the summer position of Guest Lecturer for the polar cruise ship company Poseidon Expeditions. I will be sailing with Poseidon Expeditions on three separate cruises in May and June of this year. These cruises travel to West Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen Land and Svalbard and part of the route will re-trace one of Miss Boyd’s journeys. I’ll be lecturing on Louise Arner Boyd as well as on other related topics and can’t wait to return to the north and share Miss Boyd with a different audience.
PS ~ Congratulations! What a wonderful opportunity! With all of this on your agenda, are you also working on something new?
JK ~ I am still actively promoting ‘The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame A Life of Louise Arner Boyd’. In fact, at the end of April, I will be travelling back to California where Miss Boyd was born and raised including her beloved mansion Maple Lawn. I have a very hectic schedule giving presentations about the book throughout San Francisco and Marin County. However, I have started some preliminary work on another book which I am equally passionate about. I won’t be announcing any details for a few months but I can tell you that it is another polar biography. Any readers who were intrigued by Miss Boyd’s story- please stay tuned!
I can’t wait to hear more! Thank you for sharing all of this information with us, Joanna. It’s a pleasure to have you visit here.
More information: Joanna has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a master’s degree in Geography, a doctorate in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies and a Professional Specialization Certificate in Heritage Conservation Planning. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Member of the Society of Woman Geographers, an Affiliate Member of the American Geographical Society, a Member of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association and a Member of the Canadian Association of Geographers. She loves travelling, reading, family history, birding, hiking, yoga and chocolate.
Click here to purchase The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame A Life of Louise Arner Boyd on Amazon.
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