By Kiri Westby: When I was arrested by the Chinese military for launching a historic Tibetan Freedom protest, I knew every trial and lesson had been worth it—even if it meant facing a life in prison.
After a childhood infused with esoteric Buddhist teachings, I was forged into a global activist through years of witnessing and collaborating in the dissent of women on the front lines of war. From villages in Nepal, to refugee camps in The Democratic Republic of Congo, to the street of Bogota, Colombia, my initiation into human rights activism was raw and transformative. The bravery of those women bolstered me in my darkest hours of interrogation and torture by the Chinese Police, and it guides me now to share my story—no matter the repercussions. This is not a tale the Chinese government wants told.
During my years working in war zones, I often wondered if I’d have the courage to stand up to tyranny, to lay my life on the line to confront undeniable persecution. In 2007—on the slopes of Mount Everest—I found out. Take a literary journey with me as I reveal the bumpy road I took to becoming my bravest self—learning to leverage a life of advantage, find a place for my own joy, and cultivate the courage needed to play a distinct role in history.
A Conversation with Kiri Westby:
Q: What inspired you to tell your story in Fortune Favors the Brave?
A: I initially felt inspired to write Fortune Favors The Brave to tell other people’s stories, the one that had molded and informed my way of being in the world. In the process, I told my own story. In many ways, my story feels like a tapestry woven of the many stories shared with me.
Q: What do you hope is the biggest takeaway from the book?
A: That each of us has a unique and powerful role to play in healing what is broken in the world. Every person alive today is invaluable to the global revolution for equal rights, no matter how small you feel at times, your contribution is necessary.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of recognizing women heroes, especially in today’s political climate?
A: I’m not sure about the importance of hero-izing anyone, as often it seems to strip people of their initial power and buys into our celebrity-worship culture. As soon as someone feels that they have something significant to lose, they often lose their nerve to create real change. So I like to think about the importance of recognizing that initial energy: the all-out, no-holds-barred, chutzpah that causes someone to get out of their comfort zones and start yelling ENOUGH! That is the spark we need to recognize and nurture.
Q: What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
Mom: Before you marry someone, travel with them for a year. In travel, all of our true colors come out, and you see what someone is truly made of. The Eagle (my mentor in Kenya): If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. If you’ve come here because you understand that your liberation is inextricably linked with mine, then roll up your sleeves and join us.
Q: What advice would you give someone who feels compelled to use their privileges and their voice to make a change in the world?
A: It’s not easy. In fact, speaking up within protected circles of privilege and power is incredibly difficult. My grandma used to say, “If you see something wrong, stand up! Even if you’re standing alone.” And that’s my advice too. Changing systems of oppression starts from within those systems, and often the first step is the hardest. Vow to be the person who takes that first step alone.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I use the same email address that I opened in 1995. I’ve never had cable television, and I’ve never used a dating app. Oh, and I wrote this book by hand!
Kiri Westby is a lifelong human rights activist and a writer, whose unique blogs have been featured on HuffPost and Good Morning America, and translated into multiple languages. Kiri was raised in a small, Buddhist community in Boulder, Colorado, where she began formal training in meditation and dharmic arts at the age of eight. She started working professionally in human rights advocacy at age twenty-two, transporting money and information across borders for a global feminist network. At age twenty-nine, Kiri was arrested and forced to disappear by the Chinese government, making international headlines for reminding the world—in front of Olympic cameras—of ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet. Kiri currently lives with her husband Phill and their two young children in a small fishing village in Mexico. After ten years of writing for international media, Fortune Favors The Brave is her first book.
Praise for Fortune Favors the Brave:
“Kiri Westby is a walking miracle of a person, and her brave and beautiful book gives a thrilling ride through a life dedicated to freedom and love, hurtling straight in the face of some of the most horrendous situations people have recklessly created for each other on our endangered planet. I couldn’t stop reading it, enjoyed every vividly written page, and relished in the whole blessed secret world she reveals of totemic action women heroes who never give up. The special delight of it comes from the sense I get that they are certain to prevail, no matter how stubborn seem the pseudo-powerful, blue meany bad guys everywhere! You all should read this book!”
– Robert A.F. Tenzin Thurman, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University, Author, Grandpa, Activist
“I couldn’t put the book down. Kiri rally took the Herione’s Journey. She’s a fearless woman ad engaging writer. I really hated every time I had to set it down. she had me fascinated by her story!”
– Ellen Burstyn, Academy Award Winning Actor, Author and Teacher.
“In this fierce, heartbreaking, beautiful book, Kiri Westby describes her near-fatal descent into the heart of darkness, and how she came back with compassion and fury. As a boots on- the-ground activist and born Buddhist, barely out of her teens, she set out to save the world and came to meet a group of extraordinary women who taught her what it means to be brave in the terrible face of violence and fear. I am deeply moved by her bravery and grateful for her wisdom.”
– Mark Matousek, Author of When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living
“In Fortune Favors the Brave, Kiri Westby transforms from a naive, adventurous ingenue into a mature and deeply committed human rights defender. What I loved most about this book was the real and sometimes raw and unromantic, truth of her journey. I was fortunate to have witnessed some of Kiri’s growth first-hand and am impressed by her ability to recall and capture poignant lessons behind our work establishing UAF. Absorbing, brave, and often humorous, it is worth a slow an thoughtful red. Thank you Kiri!
Julia Shaw, AKA “The Mountain Goat.” Co-Founder, Urgent Action Fund for Woman’s Human Rights (UAF)