Local author Will Harlan is winning national accolades for his outstanding new book, Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island. He’ll discuss his work May 1 at Malaprops before embarking on a book tour across the Southeast.
The biography documents the story of Carol Ruckdeschel, who Harlan describes as “a combination of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall – Carol is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia.” Harlan spent 19 years shadowing Ruckdeschel and researching the book. He previously worked as a park ranger on Cumberland, which is the country’s largest and most biologically diverse barrier island.
While telling Ruckdeschel’s dynamic personal story, the book also delves into the complicated history of the rugged island, much of which was previously owned by steel magnate Thomis Carnegie. “In recent years, Carnegie heirs and the National Park Service have clashed with Carol over the island’s future,” Harlan notes in the book’s introduction. “What happens when a dirt-poor naturalist with only a high-school diploma tries to stop one of the wealthiest families in America? Untamed is the story of an American original standing her ground and fighting for what she believes in, no matter the cost.”
Untamed is the only biography selected by Barnes and Noble as one of the 18 “Discover Great New Writers” books for 2014. It’s also winning rave reviews from esteemed writers such as Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, who says, “From the first line I was captivated by this biography of a fierce and enigmatic passion for wildness, mesmerizing and beautiful. May we all learn something of love from it.” Environmentalist Bill McKibben adds: “Wild country produces wild people, who sometimes are just what’s needed to keep that wild cycle going. This is a memorable portrait.”
When he hasn’t been writing Ruckdeschel’s remarkable story, Harlan has stayed busy living an extraordinary life himself. He’s one of the country’s top trail runners, winning the Mount Mitchell 40-Mile Challenge five times. He was also the 2009 winner of the Caballo Blanco Copper Canyon 50-Mile Ultramarathon, made famous by the bestselling book, Born to Run. He works as the editor in chief of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and operates a local nonprofit organic farm.
Harlan will discuss Untamed at Malaprops May 1, at 7 p.m. Malaprops is located at 55 Haywood Street in downtown Asheville.