Monadnock Profiles: A life defined by religion and the written word

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    Andrew Krivak's life has taken him on an interesting journey, but two things have remained constant – books and religion. The Jaffrey resident recently released his third book, "The Bear". Courtesy photo—

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    Andrew Krivak's life has taken him on an interesting journey, but two things have remained constant – books and religion. The Jaffrey resident recently released his third book, "The Bear". Courtesy photo—

  • Andrew Krivak’s life has taken him on an interesting journey, from aspiring poet to studying to become a Jesuit priest. He eventually chose writing, and the Jaffrey resident recently released his third book, ‘The Bear’, which evolved from a story he began telling to his children and inspired by he natural world around his Thorndike Pond home. Courtesy photo

  • Andrew Krivak. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/1/2020 3:36:19 PM

After grad school, Andrew Krivak came to a fork in the road.

On one side, his love of books and writing pushed him toward a path of creation. But on the other, Krivak felt this tug to further pursue his spiritual life.

He had studied the classic writers and poets at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, “reading the great books for four years,” and then later at Columbia University, while in between he worked as a yacht rigger on Cape Cod.

Those two years at Columbia were “two of the best years of my life,” and it set Krivak on a path to be a writer.

“I was raised in Pennsylvania, but I grew up in New York,” he said.

Yet he couldn’t get past this calling to see where religion would lead him.

For eight years Krivak studied to be a Jesuit priest. It was the life he felt that was laid out for him, but just one year before being ordained, he felt that tug again – that inner struggle of uncertainty. His faith never wavered, but it was during his theology studies in Massachusetts that he began to question whether his choice was the right one. Krivak had continued to craft his poetry and that passion for writing never subsided.

“Was the creative life I had inside of me, was it going to work with the real life I was being ushered to live?” Krivak said.

So 22 years ago, Krivak decided to step away from his religious studies to pursue his lifelong passion for the written word. But it left this uneasy feeling of what his new life would entail.

“It was really hard,” he said. “In eight years, people do a lot of things.”

He taught high school and then pursued his PhD in literature at Rutgers. It is where he met his wife, Amelia Dunlop, got engaged and married. The two lived in New York City and then made the decision to head to London because they wanted to live abroad before having a family. They spent five years across the pond, originally heading there for Amelia to pursue her MBA at Cambridge.

“That’s when I started writing prose over poetry,” he said. “I had nothing else to do.”

It’s where he penned his first book, “A Long Retreat,” which is a memoir of his time entering to eventually leaving the religious life, and everything in the middle. The idea came from Amelia.

“My wife told me I tell so many stories and they’re all great,” Krivak said. “So she said, why don’t you write 100 pages about your first six months as a novice and give it to me for Christmas.”

He showed what he produced to an agent and was encouraged to develop the idea into a book. He got a contract and got to work telling his story.

“Now I was a writer,” Krivak said.

What turned out to be his second book, “The Sojourn” was originally pitched as a project of nonfiction. It was about his grandfather, who ended up a prisoner of war in World War I and walked home to the Czech Republic when the war came to an end.

But during his pitch meeting, he got some feedback that would set his writing on a new path.

“They said, sounds to me like you want to write a novel,” Krivak said. “I responded with, I didn’t know I was allowed to write a novel.”

It follows the classic journey narrative, a poignant tale of fathers and sons, addressing the great immigration to America and the desire to live the American dream during a time of unrest in Europe. While Krivak set out to do a great amount of research, he found the freedom of writing fiction to be a breath of fresh air.

“The great thing about fiction is you can lie your butt off, but sometimes the craziest stuff is the true stuff,” Krivak said. “But I do think it would have been an equally good piece of nonfiction.”

It was certainly a new way of crafting a story, filled with problem solving and “that organic righteousness of the narrative.”

“It’s got to work,” Krivak said. And it did, as “The Sojourn” was a National Book Award finalist and winner of numerous awards.

He followed the war narrative into his second novel, “The Signal Flame.” It’s a heartbreaking and captivating story about a family – the same one in “The Sojourn” – who are awaiting the return of their youngest son from the Vietnam War. There was something that fascinated Krivak about the family and wanted to see it continue.

But his most recent work was a complete departure from his previous work.

“The Bear,” which was released in February, began as a story Krivak used to tell his young sons about a bear who helped his father and himself find their lost dog. As his sons got older, the story evolved from a quick bedtime story to a tale in which the boy of the story became much more attached to the bear. Then when his daughter was born, the boy became a girl.

“I just needed to get kids to sleep,” Krivak said.

“The Bear” follows the tale of a girl and her father living close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain in an Edenic future. They possess a few remnants of civilization, and the father teaches the girl how to fish and hunt, the secrets of the seasons and the stars. He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind.

“What’s this place going to look like when the last two people are left?” Krivak said. “And how the veil lifts between the natural world and the human world.”

The mountain and scenery for “The Bear” came from the surroundings of his Jaffrey home. He lives part-time on Thorndike Pond with his wife and their three children, Cole, Blaise and Louisa, who was actually born in the family car on the way to the hospital in Boston. The rest of the time they reside in Somerville, Massachusetts.

When they were looking for a second home for those all important family getaways, they first looked to Cape Cod, but a change of thinking led to a search for something more rural, closer to nature. Krivak fell in love with Jaffrey. They live in the shadow of Mount Monadnock and there’s nothing like catching a glimpse of a bald eagle grabbing an unsuspecting meal from the pond.

“Every time I’m there, there’s something that surprises me in a beautiful way,” Krivak said. “And Willa Cather is buried a quarter-mile from my house.”

While Krivak has shifted his work to prose, he still writes poetry – even though at times it seems to get too dense with narrative. He even has a file called Monadnock Poems on his laptop that he writes while enjoying the views outside of his pond-side property

“They’re not just about the mountain, but about nature and those things that surprise me in nature,” Krivak said.

He has one book of published poems, “Islands”, but currently, Krivak doesn’t have a contract for another book and he’s enjoying the sense of freedom.

“I’m just writing and it’s the best thing,” he said.

He gets his best work done early in the day and has plenty of ideas, including a book of essays.

These days he’s rereading the classics – ones like “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment.” Because his first love for the written word came from books found in his childhood home in Dallas, Pennsylvania.

“I just really wanted to read books and literature,” Krivak said.

He’s very active, taking  part in the 42-kilometer Nordic Marathon at Bretton Woods earlier this month and last year participated in the Monadnock Full Throttle Triathlon.

While he decided to step away from his path to becoming a priest, Krivak still lives with what he describes as “a religious imagination.” And it’s that imagination that has turned that young book lover into a best selling writer.

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