Photo by Zachariah Bryan
Alison Krupnick speaks at the Ballard Writers Collective’s “Big Event.”

From Vietnam to minivan, new book depicts local writer’s journey

By Luke Severn, UW News Lab

As she hastily cruises around the Ballard neighborhood in her blue minivan with the gas tank nearly dry, Alison Krupnick often wonders how she ended up where she is.

“20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I was going to be living in Seattle, you know, driving a minivan for god’s sakes,” she said. “It’s a shock.”

Knowing Krupnick’s story, where she comes from and what she’s experienced, it’s understandable to wonder the same thing.

She’s a former foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department and recently self-published author of the new book, “Ruminations from the Minivan: Musings From a World Grown Large, Then Small.” Her journey has taken her from living as a diplomat in Vietnam and India, to writing editorials for “Crosscut” and “Seattle Magazine,” to hauling her two young daughters around Ballard in the minivan that graces the cover of her book.

A native of Lakewood, New Jersey, Krupnick graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, CA, receiving her B.A. in International Policy Studies, while receiving Magna Cum Laude honors. In March of 1986, she took her knowledge of international relations and went to work for the State Department and was positioned in India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Her nearly four years in Vietnam proved to be the most intense work she’s ever done, she said. In her book, Krupnick explains she was confronted with the challenge of interviewing and deciding whether to grant visas to Amerasians (wartimes offspring of Vietnamese women and American men); former prisoners of Communist re-education camps; and beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions filed by family members already in the United States.

“Any time you are in the position of having to determine somebody else’s fate, you know, that’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “It really calls your ethics into question, and you want to make sure you do that right.

Though a seemingly less high-pressure task, getting her book published also proved to be difficult for Krupnick. She said the book publication industry has changed dramatically and it’s now harder than ever to get a work published. Finding a literary agent to help her publish her work was a tall task, and while some seemed interested, she never got a solid commitment.

She then decided to join the Ballard Writers Collective, a group of authors living in Ballard. Many of the authors are self -published, and Krupnick elected to follow in their footsteps and publish the book herself. (Disclosure: Ballard News-Tribune columnist Peggy Sturdivant helped found the Ballard Writers Collective.)

Asked why she wrote the book, Krupnick had an answer that was 10 years in the making.

She recalls taking a hike on Mt. Rainier with her daughters, just shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that shocked the entire country to its core. She thought to herself, how was she going to explain this type of confusing, devastating event to her young children? She chose to write an essay that would allow them to understand exactly what had happened. Soon, she started writing similar essays, while simultaneously getting them published by various news outlets.

Originally, Krupnick never had the intention of writing a book. The idea to turn the collection of stories into a book didn’t occur to her until editors that were publishing her work began altering her stories in a way that Krupnick felt took away from each piece. She told herself that if she combined the stories into a book and maintained what editors had taken out, she could preserve the essence of each story.

Because the book is a collection of stories, Krupnick found it difficult to tie them together in order to make a complete work. But after her mother passed away, she found the story arc she needed to unite everything she had written over the years.

In addition to her foreign service work, Krupnick used her experience writing for the state department and various businesses to become a successful freelance journalist. So far, her articles and essays have been published in “Seattle Magazine,” the “Harvard Review,” and the “Seattle Times,” among others. Currently, she frequently contributes to crosscut.com, and also runs her own blog, sliceofmidlife.com

As her life shifted away from international issues and travel and toward raising her daughters, so has her writing shifted. Her children have had a profound impact on what she writes about, as she now focuses mainly on the Seattle Public School system. She says her kids were the main reason she became a freelance journalist in the first place, and believes in writing about the issues she cares about most.

So what’s next for this world traveler turned minivan driving mother and freelancer? Is another book on the way?

“I may never write another book,” she said. “There’s a part of me that wants to do more [journalism.] I feel like the landscape is so oversaturated. There are so many voices out there writing and commenting. Do I need to be another one of them? Or should I just do something different? Whatever I do I want it to be a ‘greater good’ kind of job.”

What Krupnick is certain about is that she will continue to be curious, continue to travel as long as she’s able to, and continue to make connections with people she believes share similar connections with her.

“The hope with this book wasn’t just that it was my stupid little story, but that other people, and mainly women, but other people could relate.”

“Ruminations from the Minivan” is currently available at Secret Garden’s Books located on Market Street in Ballard, and online at Amazon.com.

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