Pelham Manor, NY
Place of Birth
American international schools abroad before attending Amherst; also spent one semester at the Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland (as part of my independent study program my senior year at Amherst)
Why did you choose to come to Amherst?
I was admitted early decision even though I did not ask for early decision. While Amherst was one of my top choices, that clinched it for me and I wasn't about to wait to see what happened with my other applications.
Favorite (most memorable or most influential) class at Amherst:
English 1-2, the last one under the core curriculum that was about to disappear.
favorite (most memorable or most influential) professor
A toss-up: Kim Townsend, who taught my English 1-2 class, or John Ratte, who taught Modern European History.
Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer (with one of the best opening paragraphs I've ever read)
Tough to say. Among my favorites are Graham Greene (especially his early work), Ryszard Kapuscinski and the poet Czeslaw Milosz.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Always look for material, the details that will make your writing come to life. Write often, and rewrite as much you need to. Never undertake a book project half-heartedly. You have to believe fully in whatever project you undertake--you have to want to tell this story. If you're only writing to chalk up a book, you'll hate yourself long before you're done and you may never finish it. And even if you do, you're unlikely to be proud of what you write.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author.
Like most journalists, I always thought I might write a book someday, but what prompted me to act was a very specific event: my expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1982, which abruptly ended my stint in Moscow for Newsweek during the Cold War. I suddenly had a very personal story to tell, but one which also encapsulated many of the tensions of the time, both in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations and within Soviet society, where dissent was brutally suppressed. Once I had that first taste of book writing and the possibility it provides to spin out much longer narratives than daily or weekly journalism allows, I was hooked.
History, history, history, with special emphasis on personal stories
Awards and Prizes:
2011: Poland's Cavalry Cross from President Bronislaw Komorowski for coverage of Poland during Solidarity era
2009: Poland's Bene Merito Award from Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski for Solidarity-era coverage
2008: Finalist for Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History (for The Greatest Battle)
2002: 30th anniversary award from Nowy Dziennik, Polish daily in New York, for outstanding coverage of Poland during its years of struggle for democracy
1996: Finalist for Deadline Club award for best feature story for January 16, 1995 Newsweek cover story "The Last Days of Auschwitz"
1979: Overseas Press Club award for "Best business reporting from abroad" for July 17, 1978 Newsweek International cover story "Japan Versus the World"
1975: Overseas Press Club citation for September 15, 1974 Newsweek International cover story "Black Africa Moves South"