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Ryszard Kapuscinski

Ryszard Kapuscinski, the reporter of revolutions and political drama, has died at age 74. The Guardian's obituary is here.

His books, The Emperor (1978) and Shah of Shahs (1982) were, over the years, on the reading lists for my courses in political economy. His on-the-ground deep-description, perhaps a bit magical as some critics have suggested, contrasted with the otherwise analytical and quantitative style of my courses.

In the pedestals chapter of Beautiful Evidence, there is a long excerpt from Kapuscinski's Shah of Shahs on depedestalization, which elaborates in complicated and ironic ways Richard Serra's comments beginning that chapter. As can be seen in the excerpt, his writing had an intense reality and physicality of direct experience.

Ryszard Kapuscinski was a great writer, a world treasure. May his songs always be sung.

-- Edward Tufte

"The Shadow of the Sun" does what no other literary, documentary or fictional account can do: explains the phenomema of Africa. A collection of his African writings, it remains as true as when he wrote it.

-- Donald Bray (email)

On Friday, NPR's Fresh Air rebroadcast a 1988 interview with Ryszard Kapuscinski.

-- Niels Olson (email)

See Margaret Atwood, "A Sense of Wonder" on Ryszard Kapuscinski here.

-- Edward Tufte

Edward: Thank you, thank you, thank you for your reference to Ryszard Kapuscinski. You were a wise man to introduce him to your students, and they were fortunate indeed to have learned of him. I only recently read of his body of work and read The Soccer War. Now, I am reading a more recent publication entitled The Other, where he blends philosophy, theology and anthropology in assessing how we, in the West, have regarded the foreign or the Other. Our journalists pale beside him. Despite his passing, Kapuscinski still has much to teach us.

-- Bruce Post (email)

Dear International Studies Academic Community,

I am writing to let you know about a documentary film I made about Ryszard Kapuściński, one of the most important war correspondents and writers of our time. The film is called, A Poet on the Frontline: The Reportage of Ryszard Kapuściński, and is now available on DVD for academic and library acquisition, public screenings, and home viewing. It also makes a great gift for Kapuściński fans.

Kapuściński's insightful reporting from every corner of the globe served as the basis for his 25 books of reportage, which brought him international acclaim and countless awards for their literary craftsmanship and rich imagery. The books, many of which are published in over 40 languages, have sold millions of copies and cover a range of topics including the break-up of the Soviet Union, the decolonization of Africa, the Iranian revolution, Latin American conflicts, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Angola's civil war, World War II, and even ancient Greek history. Kapuściński was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and Granta. He died in Warsaw in 2007.

Ryszard Kapuściński

You can read a short synopsis below, and see excerpts from the film at:

I am an independent filmmaker from New York (now based in Berlin) and I knew Ryszard Kapuściński for 15 years. I spent six months filming and interviewing Kapuściński in four countries, all with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. My film has been broadcast internationally and screened at festivals around the world.

I hope you will consider informing the members of your academic community, students and fellow faculty about this film, or making it available to them. For more information, you can go to or write to me directly.

Author John Berger writes about this film: "The film about Richard K. is wonderful and wonderfully told, edited, saying yes between every cut, being proud of this man and the boy in him, and the words which won't go quiet. Thank you and everybody for this film which is like the wallet of a traveller - without money but with notes from everybody."

Many thanks for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you.

Gabrielle Pfeiffer
A Poet on the Frontline: The Reportage of Ryszard Kapuściński


a one-hour documentary film by Gabrielle Pfeiffer

This film will introduce audiences to the world of Ryszard Kapuściński, the daredevil war correspondent and author of 25 books. One of the most important literary voices of our times, Kapuściński spent his life struggling to stay alive on foreign battlefields and struggling to stay published in the face of censorship in his native Poland. Known as "Indiana Jones with a notepad," he is a legend among his peers who has been looking for the truths of human experience in the most dangerous places.
Filmmaker Gabrielle Pfeiffer traveled with Kapuściński to four countries, capturing his true character, his passion, his humor and his demons. Her film unfolds in an engaging episodic format in which the echoes of Kapuściński's childhood as a war refugee interweave with his later experiences on the battlefields of the Third World in a poetic reverie of the tragedy and the absurdity of war.

Some Reviews of Kapuściński's Work

"One Kapuściński is worth more than a thousand whimpering and fantasizing scribblers. His exceptional combination of journalism and art allows us to feel so close to what Kapuściński calls the inexpressible true image of war... When I first discovered The Emperor it was quite clear from two pages that I was reading not just reportage but a real work of art, a quite astounding piece of writing unlike anything I'd seen... Kapuściński's writing, always wonderfully concrete and observant, conjures marvels of meaning out of minutiae. And his book transcends reportage, becoming a nightmare of power...that reads as if Italo Calvino had rewritten Machiavelli....An unforgettable, fiercely comic, and finally compassionate book."

-Salman Rushdie

"A stunning exhibit; the interviewed subjects...enunciated their memories of the days of Haile Selassie with a magical elegance that...achieves poetry and aphorism."

-John Updike, The New Yorker

"A readable, timely and valuable contribution to the understanding of the revolutionary forces at work in Iran. The author does not tell the reader about these forces, but instead makes theater of them, so the reader almost becomes a participant. Equally effectively, he uses verbal snapshots to provide a glimpse of Iran's history."

-The New York Times Book Review

"Kapuściński is the conjuror extraordinary of modern reportage. The Soccer War is a splendid example of his magic."

-John Le Carre

"Stripped of excess, remarkably void of cynicism, Kapuściński's writing has the force and vision of literature...He makes his world so real, so alive beyond obscure headlines and other mindnumbing inoculations."

-Boston Globe

"When our children's children want to study the cruelties of the late 20th century; when they want to read of murderous tyrants and drunken soldiers; when they wonder why revolution after revolution betrayed its promises through greed, fear and confusions, they should read Ryszard Kapuściński."

-The Wall Street Journal

"The three of his nonfiction books that have been translated into English...are among the most thrilling, innovative, and egregiously under-read literary works of the last decade. And that maybe the most mysterious thing about him is how he has managed to live this long."

-Stephen Schiff, Vanity Fair

-- Gabrielle Pfeiffer

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