September 13, 2013

Former captive, Portland writer team up

Amanda Lindhout's ordeal in Somalia is only part of 'House in the Sky,' says her co-author, Sara Corbett.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

As a premier writer for the New York Times Magazine, Sara Corbett of Portland has told her share of powerful stories.

click image to enlarge

Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout, right, and Portland writer Sara Corbett, co-authors of “A House in the Sky,” pose Thursday for a photo at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., during their book tour. “A House in the Sky” is a memoir that describes Lindhout’s life in captivity in Somalia.

Chitose Suzuki photo


WHAT: Sara Corbett and Amanda Lindhout

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library,  5 Monument Square

INFO: 871-1700;

She has written about a 16-year-old girl who attempted to become the youngest person to circle the globe in a 40-foot sailboat without stopping. She has written about a couple that tried to sustain a relationship when one of them opted for a sex change.

She has interviewed war veterans, artists, athletes and politicians.

But few people Corbett has encountered over her long career have made as deep and lasting an impression as Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout.

The two will be in Portland on Friday night to talk about the book they co-authored, "A House in the Sky." It details Lindhout's 15 months of captivity in Somalia, where she had gone in 2008 as a freelance journalist to report on the country's civil war and famine.

Scribner published "A House in the Sky" this week, and the book is receiving widespread, international attention. Lindhout and Corbett are on a book tour that stopped this week in Toronto, New York and Brookline, Mass., before coming to Portland.

The New York Times excerpted the book earlier this month, and several magazines, including Vogue and Elle, have featured Lindhout's story.

"I've been really gratified by the responses so far," Corbett said by phone from Toronto. "People who have read the book are seeing what I saw when I was first introduced to Amanda's story, which is a really interesting, provocative coming-of-age story about a very courageous woman. It's exciting to see that resonating with some of the reviewers."

Sponsored by Longfellow Books, Friday's event begins at 6:30 p.m. at Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library.

The two will discuss the book, their collaboration and Lindhout's life. While "A House in the Sky" focuses on Somalia and Lindhout's 460 days of captivity, the book tells a broader story, including her experiences backpacking across the world, growing up in an abusive household and becoming a journalist after supporting herself as a cocktail waitress.

It also details her decision to return to Somalia after her captivity to begin an organization dedicated to helping Somalis rebuild their country.

"She's been able to effect change," Corbett said. "She had the courage to go back, which is really pretty amazing. I didn't sleep a wink the whole time she was there. But she did it."

Friday's event is particularly meaningful to Corbett, because it occurs in her adopted hometown. She is eager to introduce Lindhout to her friends as well as to the broader Somali community that lives here. "I'm excited to bring together these two meaningful parts of my life," she said.

Corbett and her husband, writer Michael Paterniti, have made their home in Portland for 15 years. Living here allows them to pursue their writing careers while raising their three children -- ages 13, 11 and 8 -- in a safe, family-friendly environment, they say. Paterniti has just released his latest book, "The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese."

Along with their friend and fellow writer Susan Conley, the couple are co-founders of The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland dedicated to helping children and adults tell stories.

"A House in the Sky" is a perfect example of the kind of story that Corbett likes to tell.

Lindhout, now 32, grew up in a violent household in Alberta, Canada. She imagined a very different world, and dreamed of traveling to exotic places that she learned about while reading National Geographic magazine.

After high school, she moved to Calgary and got a job as a waitress. She saved her money and took a series of trips across Latin America, India, Syria and other places. She began a career as a TV journalist in the danger zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, then made the decision to travel to Somalia to report on that country's civil war and famine.

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