Imagine on Air Presents Harley Rustad

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Imagine on Air presents Harley Rustad and his fascinating new book, Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in The Himalayas. Later in the hour, he’ll also be joined by Calgary's Raksha Vasudevan, Rustad’s mentee in The Writers' Trust 2022 mentorship program.

The hour-long conversation will start at 7:00 PM MT and will be hosted by Wordfest’s CEO and Creative Ringleader Shelley Youngblut. (The pre-show will begin at 6:50 PM.) The live stream event is free- and if you RSVP, we'll send you a reminder on the day of the show, as well as our unique Digital Doggie Bag recap with a watch-on-demand link and bonus extras sparked by the conversation.

We are grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for making it possible for us to connect you with Harley Rustad.

About Harley Rustad

Harley Rustad is the author of Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Outside, the Guardian, the Globe and Mail, and Geographical. He is a features editor and writer at The Walrus, a faculty editor at the Banff Centre’s Mountain and Wilderness Writing residency, and the founder of the Port Renfrew Writers’ Retreat. A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Rustad is originally from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter @hmrustad and Instagram @hmrustad

About Lost in the Valley of Death

"One of the most haunting books of recent times. Through spellbinding story-telling, drawn from impeccable research, Harley Rustad takes us not only into the evergreen story of a young man in search of his better self, but into the mystical pull of India, the latter-day community of global pilgrims, and the casualties found along the way. This is Somerset Maugham’s classic Razor’s Edge updated to the Age of Instagram." —Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness and The Open Road

In the vein of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a riveting work of narrative nonfiction centering on the unsolved disappearance of an American backpacker in India—one of at least two dozen tourists who have met a similar fate in the remote and storied Parvati Valley.

For centuries, India has enthralled Westerners looking for an exotic getaway, a brief immersion in yoga and meditation, or, in rare cases, a true pilgrimage to find spiritual revelation. Justin Alexander Shetler, an inveterate traveler trained in wilderness survival, was one such seeker.

In his early thirties, Justin quit his job at a tech start-up and set out on a global journey—across the United States by motorcycle, then down to South America, and on to the Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal—in search of authentic experiences and meaningful encounters while documenting his travels on Instagram. His enigmatic character and magnetic personality gained him a devoted following who lived vicariously through his adventures. But the ever-restless explorer was driven to seek out ever-greater extremes, and greater risks, in what had become a personal quest—his own hero’s journey.

In 2016, he made his way to the Parvati Valley, a remote and rugged corner of the Indian Himalayas steeped in mystical tradition and shrouded in darkness and danger. There he spent weeks studying under the guidance of a sadhu, an Indian holy man, living and meditating in a cave. At the end of August, accompanied by the sadhu, he set off on a spiritual journey to a holy lake—one from which he would never return.

Lost in the Valley of Death is about one man’s search to find himself, in a country where, for many Westerners, the path to spiritual enlightenment can prove fraught, even treacherous. But it is also a story about all of us and the ways, sometimes extreme, we seek fulfillment in life.

Raksha Vasudevan Image

About Raksha Vasudevan

Raksha Vasudevan is a literary nonfiction writer and reporter interested in colonialism, race, and climate change. Her essays have appeared in publications including Guernica, The Washington Post, and Harper's Bazaar. Her reporting appears in The New York Times, VICE, The Los Angeles Times, and more. She has received fellowships and grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, the Writers' Trust of Canada, and the African Writers Trust. A Calgary native, Vasudevan now lives in Denver. 

About Host Shelley Youngblut

Shelley Youngblut is the CEO & Creative Ringleader of Wordfest. She was the recipient of the 2020 Calgary Award for Community Achievement in the Arts and the 2018 Rozsa Award for Arts Leadership. She also won the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Western Magazine Awards. Youngblut was the founding editor of Calgary’s award-winning Swerve magazine and has created magazines for ESPN, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Nickelodeon, Western Living, and The Globe and Mail. A former pop-culture correspondent for ABC World News Now and Canada Am, she is now often unconventionally opinionated on CBC Calgary’s Eyeopener.

Follow her on Twitter @youngblut and Instagram @youngblutshelley.

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