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Portrait of an Artist

A letter from the editor of 5280's March 2019 issue.

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Profile writing is one of the most difficult disciplines in journalism for a couple of reasons, the most obvious being that when your subject is still living, there’s almost never a narrative arc around which the writer can organize her story. There’s a beginning, certainly, but the middle is unformed and unwieldy and the end has not yet played itself out. Profiling a writer is perhaps even more challenging given the meta nature of the exercise—and the fact that the subject sits in front of a computer to make his art. So, features editor Kasey Cordell—whose profile of Peter Heller, “Between Shadow & Light,” is in the March 2019 issue—was grateful that the author is much more than a composer of words; he’s an avid outdoorsman, adventurer, and environmental advocate. Heller, who lives in Denver but also owns homes in Paonia and on Mexico’s Pacific coast, wrote poetry before turning to a career in magazine journalism. It wasn’t until 2012, when his first novel, The Dog Stars, was published, that the now 60-year-old became a full-time novelist. Cordell’s character sketch limns Heller’s journey from his early years in New York City to his life today in Denver and details his many adventures in far-flung places like Tibet and Japan and Antarctica. But while these exotic locales provide the backdrop to her portrait of the man, Cordell also explores the emotional underpinnings of Heller’s novels and the seeming contradiction between his cheerful personality and the darker nature of his narratives. Just as Heller’s books give us insight into our place in the world, Cordell’s artful profile is an illuminating look at one of contemporary fiction’s most successful authors—one who is still creating and writing his own story each day.

Winter Adventures

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