At the age of twenty-four, Mara Hvistendahl moved to Shanghai to try her luck at freelancing. Until she got her first assignment, she worked an assortment of odd jobs and lived off a monthly $200 check from a magazine that paid her to research story ideas. She lived sparely, in a seventh-floor walk-up, sleeping on a foldout couch and eating bowls of noodles in small shops. The years that followed marked her education.
Mara still writes about China, but she has also covered stories in the Bolivian Amazon, at Cambodia’s Angkor, on the Mongolian grasslands, and on a boat in the Adriatic Sea. What she loves most is writing books and articles that illuminate something new and unexpected about the world, either by examining global problems in a new light or by venturing into unexplored territory. Sometimes telling those stories takes her into dark, unexpected places, as happened with her longform true crime story And The City Swallowed Them. Other times it takes her around the world–the situation with her first book, Unnatural Selection, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. And at other moments a story turns into a sweeping undercover investigation, as recently happened at Science magazine, where she is a contributing correspondent.
Ms. Hvistendahl is a founding member of Deca, a cooperative of award-winning writers creating narrative journalism about the world, and sits on the advisory board of Round Earth Media, an organization founded to promote international journalism through training young reporters around the world. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education, where her coverage won a National Award for Education Reporting, and a visiting journalism professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her articles and book reviews have also been published in The Atlantic, the Financial Times magazine, Harper’s, The Los Angeles Times, Matter, The New York Times, Popular Science, Psychology Today, Scientific American, Slate, The Wall Street Journal, The Walrus, and other publications. Mara has testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and appeared on the BBC, CBC, MSNBC, NPR, and other radio and television outlets. She graduated with honors from Swarthmore College in comparative literature and Chinese and studied magazine journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Thanks to paleobotanist Wang Jun, she has a Paleozoic fossil named after me.
Mara lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children.