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NewsJul 7, 2021

Chaney Kwak brings high-seas tale to NPR

2009 MFA in Creative Writing graduate discusses his debut book on ‘Morning Edition’

Image of Chaney Kwak and book cover
Chaney Kwak portrait by Michael Baca. Book image courtesy of Godine.

Travel writer Chaney Kwak ’09 appeared this week on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” sharing harrowing yet entertaining tales of his 2019 journey aboard an ill-fated Scandinavian cruise ship.

Earlier this spring, Kwak, a graduate of our MFA in Creative Writing program, spoke about his adventures in travel and his debut “The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruises & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship” on our “Why We Write” podcast.

“This was never meant to be a book, to be honest,” Kwak said on our podcast. “I went on the cruise to write a feature story for a magazine, the cruise ended up having a catastrophic engine failure, and the assignment was killed.”

A year or so later, however, Kwak began working on an essay about the experience. During the pandemic, the idea grew to book length and was published last month by the Boston-based Godine Press.

Headshot of Chaney Kwak by Micahel Baca
Chaney Kwak (photo by Michael Baca)

In his “Morning Edition” interviewed, Kwak pointed out that the “sinking ship” in his book’s title isn’t about the ship he was on, the Viking Sky, per se; rather, the phrase describes economic and emotional sinking ships in his own life.

“I spent a lot of years working as a freelancer for magazines and newspapers, and things weren't going so well for the industry. But at the same time, I was so burnt out and cynical, too,” he said.

“But the biggest sinking ship was probably my personal life. I was drifting without any kind of direction. … I'd been with the same person for 16 years, someone that I loved, and still do. But you have this feeling where you can't do anything to correct the course so you stay on board even though you know you're working without a working engine and drifting deeper and deeper into the storm.”

Since the tumultuous cruise, however, Kwak found stability in the mooring of a corporate writing job, then buckled down to work on what would become a well-received memoir.

“I wrote ‘The Passenger’ in the morning, actually before going to work. And I wrote every morning, and those were the happiest hours of my work day at the time,” he said on “Why We Write.”