I was born in Calgary and studied Microbiology and English at the University of Calgary. I was also a member of the University of Calgary Wrestling Team. I graduated in 1997 with a pair of degrees (a BA and BSc) and two cauliflower ears.
Later that year, I traveled to West Africa with a volunteer organization and taught biology in a Ghanaian village for three months. When my volunteer placement was complete, I wandered through western and northern Africa for nine months. My stories from Africa resulted in my first book, Harmattan: Wind Across West Africa. This won the Henry Kriesel Award for Best First Book.
In December 1999, hot with millennium-fever, I traveled to Jerusalem to watch the clock turn on 2000. I wandered throughout Israel and Egypt before returning to Calgary to begin a career as a freelance writer. Since then, I’ve published articles in numerous magazines and literary journals including Afar, The Walrus, EnRoute, Geist and Reader’s Digest Canada. My writing received several honours including the 2002 Maclean-Hunter Endowment Prize for Creative Nonfiction and a number of Western and National Magazine Award nominations.
I traveled to Iran in the summer of 2003 seeking the connection between Persian poets and traditional wrestlers. This trip, and a subsequent return to the country the following year, yielded the stories that make up my travel memoir Poets and Pahlevans: A Journey Into the Heart of Iran. Knopf Canada published Poets and Pahlevans in 2006. The book won the Wilfred Eggleston Prize for Best Nonfiction at the Alberta Book Awards and was nominated for the Edna Staebler Award.
My last project was a book about walls, fences and other ‘hard’ barriers – and the people who live in their shadows – called Walls; Travels Along the Barricades. For this book, I visited walls and fences in Algeria, Morocco, the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, Israel, Palestine, India, Cyprus, Montreal, Belfast and along the US-Mexico border. Walls won the 2013 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, among a few other awards, and has been published in Canada, the US, the UK and Bulgaria. A French edition will come out in the Fall of 2017.
I live in Calgary with my beautiful wife and seven year-old son, Amedeo.