You might think that the day of the dashing explorer -- circling the most remote parts of the world to document hidden cultures and languages, root out the science behind seeming magic and raise awareness of the natural world beyond your neighborhood -- is something out of the early part of the last century.
You'd be wrong, at least when it comes to Canadian scientist/author/filmmaker/explorer Wade Davis. Davis, who now holds the whimsically contradictory title of explorer-in-residence for National Geographic, is a true Renaissance man.
In 1985, the newly minted Harvard-educated scientist wowed the world with his first book, "The Serpent and the Rainbow." In it, he delivers a compelling account of the reality behind the black-magic art of making zombis (as they are called in Haitian French). He nearly died while uncovering these secrets. Though the book's title was later borrowed for a fictional film loosely based on Davis' experiences, the real story is far more harrowing and thrilling.
His work in documentary films includes a production credit on National Geographic's "Light at the Edge of the World: Science of the Mind," and hosting, writing and co-producing for the History channel, "Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey," based on two of his books.
All in all, Davis has written 11 books, provided forwards for a number of others, edited another, and has contributed to three photography books.
It is in his capacity as a scientific writer that Davis comes to Ogden on Thursday, Nov. 21, courtesy of the Ogden School Foundation. He will be presenting a dinner lecture featuring two of his books, "The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World," published in 2009, and "Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest" from 2011.
In 2012, the latter book received the Samuel Johnson Prize, and Davis also made the short list of honorees the same year for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, the Governor General's Literary Award, and the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Festival, Mountain & Wilderness Literature. Davis was also recognized that year with the Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration.
A scientific mind
The Ogden School Foundation yearly offers a Fall Author Event, an annual dinner and lecture that showcases a wide array of the world's top writers. Past authors who have presented for the foundation include Ray Bradbury, Ken Burns, Geraldine Brooks, Andres Cisneros, George Plimpton, Stephen Ambrose and Amy Tan.
Janis Vause, the executive director for the Ogden School Foundation, said that every year she and her committee consider a long list of authors to invite, with an eye toward bringing in a wide variety of scribes.
"We've had an explorer before, in Jon Krakauer, but this is our first scientist," she said. Vause's husband, Mike, had just finished "Into the Silence," and, while in the process of brainstorming, found out that Davis was doing a reading in Salt Lake City.
Coincidentally, at about the same time, one of the Ogden School Foundation's community supporters, Kathryn Lindquist, who attends author events statewide, had an idea that perhaps such entities around the state could sometimes combine forces, and cost-effectively share authors.
"The idea is we could all get together and say, if so-and-so was doing an Ogden School Foundation thing, perhaps they can also do a class at University of Utah, and we could share some of the cost."
In the midst of these discussions, Davis happened to make an appearance in Salt Lake City at the library.
"So we went down to see him, and we had dinner with him and told him about our event -- and we booked him!"
Vause said she greatly enjoyed the time she has already spent with Davis, considering him a modern-day renaissance man.
"Initially we got interested after reading 'Into the Silence,' but then when we were actually able to meet with him and speak with him, we then got really excited," she said. "He is just very warm and interesting, yet also very intellectual. And with the cultural diversity of Ogden, we thought, 'How appropriate, to have someone who studies culture all around the world.' He is a fascinating man."
Student writer honors
Vause said that Davis' visit also includes meeting with Ogden high school writers and artists.
She said, "One purpose of this is to raise funds for the foundation. But students also benefit directly from the event, in the form of a yearly contest. Every year, whatever author we bring in, we create a writing prompt for students to work with, fashioned after the style of the particular author we are bringing."
Students can submit either a 1,000-word essay or a collage inspired by the prompt.
"We have several hundred entries, which will then be judged by Weber State professors -- two from the writing department and one from graphics."
Ten winners will be recognized at an in-school assembly on Thursday, Nov. 21, at Ogden High School. The 10 honorees will receive an autographed book from Davis.
Said Vause: "But the best part of this is that these 10 winners get an intimate meeting with Wade before the presentation. He'll have read their papers, and will talk to them face-to-face.
"In the past, this has been one of the neatest things about the author's visit," she added. "It is wonderful to see these young writers sitting across from someone like David McCullough, and him saying things like, 'I love your title. With a little work, this could be a college paper.' World class authors, who have read their entries, and who encourage them like this? That is priceless."
Contact reporter Linda East Brady at 801-625-4279 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LindaEastBrady.
- WHAT: Ogden School Foundation Fall Author Event
- WHO: Wade Davis, National Geographic explorer-in-residence
- WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 21: 5:30 p.m. social and book sale, 6:30 p.m. dinner, 7:30 author presentation, 8:45 p.m. book signing
- WHERE: Eccles Conference Center, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden
- TICKETS: $70-$150/individual tickets, $700-$1,500/full tables, available from the Ogden School Foundation by calling 801-737-7305 or by sending a check to Ogden School Foundation, 1950 Monroe Blvd., Ogden, 84401
BOOKS BY WADE DAVIS
- "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1985; 1997 edition includes the subtitle "A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic")
- "Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie" (1988)
- "Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest, Western Canada Wilderness" (1990) with Thom Henley
- "The Art of Shamanic Healing, Cross Cultural Shamanism Network" (1991)
- "One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest" (1998)
- "Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire" (1998)
- "Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures" (2001)
- "The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World" (2009)
- "Grand Canyon: River at Risk" (2009)
- "Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest" (2011)
- Photography books
- "Nomads of the Dawn: The Penan of the Borneo Rain Forest" (1995) with Ian MacKenzie and Shane Kennedy
- "Rainforest: Ancient Realm of the Pacific Northwest White River Junction, Vermont." (1999) Davis wrote the text, with photographs by Graham Osbourne
- "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes" (2004)
- As editor
- "Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures," (2nd edition, 2008)