Port Townsend native tells of mountain climbing in memoir chosen as 2018 Community Read

PORT TOWNSEND — Leif Whittaker’s critically acclaimed memoir, “My Old Man and the Mountain,” has been selected as the Port Townsend Public Library’s 13th Annual Community Read selection.

An entire month of programming is planned for March to celebrate Whittaker’s non-fiction narrative. It traces his life as an ordinary boy who lived an extraordinary life with his adventurous mother, Dianne Roberts, brother Joss, and his dad, mountaineering legend Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest.

Library Director Melody Sky Eisler said she’s thrilled to celebrate an author who grew up locally and wrote a book that describes his life in Port Townsend and beyond.

“I won’t choose a book that I don’t whole-heartedly believe in and want to champion,” Eisler said.

“This book isn’t just about mountaineering. You can be born here, graduate from Port Townsend High School and climb to the highest heights, whether that’s literal or figurative. Leif is an inspiration.”

Author Leif Whittaker is humbled by his selection.

“It’s such a great honor to be chosen as the Community Read. My one big hope is that this book inspires others to get outside, discover nature and experience their own adventures,” he said.

Eisler said local readers will identify with Whittaker’s memories of their iconic location.

“There are so many wonderful references to growing up in Port Townsend — Waterfront Pizza, working in a T-shirt shop, going to the high school. There’s that local appeal,” she said.

“The narrative then changes to Leif and his coming-of-age story that eventually leads him to the summit of Everest.”

Whittaker’s book was nominated for a Washington Book Award for Best Memoir. According to Eisler, he was quite honored because he was in the same category as one of his English professors from college who went on to win the category.

The Port Townsend library works with organizations and community anchors to host a series of free events throughout the month, which traditionally is proclaimed Community Read Month by the mayor.

Among the events are:

• A screening of the mountaineering film, “High And Hallowed: Everest 1963,” at Fort Worden’s Wheeler Theater at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 in partnership with the Port Townsend Film Festival and underwritten by Kris Nelson.

At its conclusion, Jim Whittaker, a subject of the film, and Dianne Roberts will discuss the first successful American team expedition to Everest.

• Northwind Arts Center, 701Water St., will display a juried show, “Courage to Climb,” with selected works inspired by Whittaker’s book, from March 1 to April 1.

A special award will be given for the Best Representation of the Book, sponsored by the Friends of the Port Townsend Public Library and presented by Eisler.

• To celebrate sailing history and International Women’s Day, Shelly Randall of the Community Boat Project will discuss the historic wooden sloop Felicity Ann and adventurer/ writer Ann Davison, the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic in 1956. The presentation will be at 7 p.m. March 8 at Carnegie Reading Room at the library at 1220 Lawrence St.

• Peninsula-based photographer Christian Coxen will present and discuss his environmental images at 7 p.m. March 15 at the library’s Carnegie Reading Room.

• Key City Public Theater performers will read excerpts of “My Old Man and the Mountain,” at 7:30 p.m. March 15 at Northwind Arts Center as part of the PT Shorts series.

• Children and their families can enjoy a special Story Trail through Kai Tai Lagoon scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. March 17 Story pages will be found along the path to be read as families enjoy a walk thorough native habitat.

Discussion groups are drop-in events to explore the book with fellow readers.

They will be at 2 p.m. March 5 at the Pink House/ Library Learning Center; 7 p.m. March 13 at Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar, 842 Washington St.; and 2 p.m. March 20 at Velocity Coffee Shop at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.

To conclude the month, readers can meet the author at a special program from 6:30 p.m . to 8 p.m. March 29 in the auditorium at Port Townsend High School, 1500 Van Ness St.

After an introduction by his father, Leif Whittaker will discuss his book and read selected passages. A book signing will follow.

Eisler said that “My Old Man and the Mountain” has been a popular choice and copies are disappearing quickly. She requests that readers pick up a book then “read and release…pass it on to others to enjoy.”


Jeannie McMacken is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.

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