Biography

About Frank Westerman

Frank Westerman (born in 1964 in Emmen) grew up in Assen, the Netherlands, and studied Tropical Agriculture at Wageningen University . In 1987 he lived in the Peruvian Andes for a year, where he researched the irrigation methods of the Aymara Indians. Frank graduated with honours.

Journalism

Whilst studying Frank wrote his first journalistic reports. For Dutch newspapers he covered Mario Vargas Llosa's bid to become President of Peru and reported on the American anti-drugs campaign to wipe out the coca-cultivation in the Chapare region of Bolivia.

Photography

To start his career as freelancer Frank attended a course in photojournalism in Amsterdam. He worked as a photographer in Romania in the last week before the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu. As a witness of the violence he wrote several dispatches directly from Romania for two leading Dutch newspapers.

Radio documentaries

Frank made two 45-minute radio documentaries for VPRO's Radio 1 programme ‘Het Gebouw’. The first, in April 1992, was about the ‘death valley’ in the Grassfields-district of Northwestern Cameroon – a subject he would later revisit in his book Choke Valley. The second was recorded in the completely destroyed town of Vukovar.

Literary debut

Because Frank wanted to focus entirely on writing he left his short flirt with radio and photography. In 1993 he wrote the thirty-page story ‘The Good Lake’ for the magazine Atlas (considered to be the Dutch "Granta"): his debut at a literary publishing house.

Foreign correspondent in Belgrade

In 1992 Westerman settled in Belgrade for national newspaper Volkskrant. At the age of 27 he was the youngest foreign correspondent the newspaper had ever employed. Frank interviewed first lady Mirjana Markovic, wife of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, portrayed the stunt team of the ex-Yugoslav fighter jet pilots and was the only Dutch journalist to visit Dutchbat in the besieged enclave of Srebrenica.

The Bridge across the Tara

In 1994 Frank Westerman published his experiences in the Balkans in his first book ‘The Bridge across the Tara’. Many critics emphasized his style and writing skills. Dirk-Jan van Baar in Intermediair: “Westerman is not just a journalist, he is also a writer, and a very good one at that.”

Editor at NRC Handelsblad

 

In November 1994 Frank Westerman took on a position as editor-reporter at NRC Handelsblad. For the Saturday supplement Z he wrote interviews, portraits, reconstructions and reports on the most different people and events (from the ‘Gang of Venlo’ to artificial intelligence and hard drugs). More than once he returned to the Balkans, where he reported on the operations of Dutchbat and high Dutch officers in the UN peace mission.

The Blackest Scenario

 

Together with colleague journalist Bart Rijs, he wrote ‘The Blackest Scenario’ in july 1995 about the fall of Srebrenica. They were the only Dutch reporters who managed to enter the enclave. They used secret UN documents and interviews with eyewitnesses to reconstruct the war years in Srebrenica.

Foreign correspondent in Moscow

 

From 1997 to 2002 Frank Westerman worked and lived in Moscow as foreign correspondent for NRC Handelsblad in the former Soviet Union. Together with photographer Oleg Klimov he ran a website called ‘Bureau Moskou’. They travelled from Kaliningrad to the Kurill Islands and from the Crimea to the Arctic circle.

De Graanrepubliek

In 1999, while living in Moscow, Frank finished his book ‘De Graanrepubliek’, which was awarded the Dr. L. De Jong Prize for contemporary history. The book has been adapted for theatre twice – ‘Graan’ by Grand Theater Groningen (sixty performances) and ‘Occis’: open air music theatre near Blauwestad in the Netherlands.

Engineers of the Soul

Frank’s next book was a result of his stay in Russia. In ‘Engineers of the Soul’ Frank follows the footsteps of author Konstantin Paustovski and his contemporaries Maxim Gorki, Andrej Platonov and Boris Pilnjak. ‘Engineers of the Soul’ was shortlisted for both the AKO Literature Prize as the Golden Owl Prize and was awarded the Dr. Wijnaendts Francken Prize and the J. Greshoff Prize. The book has been translated into ten languages and was named ‘Travelbook of the Year’ by the Sunday Times in 2010. El País labeled it ‘impossible to exceed’.

Reports for NRC Handelsblad

 

From 2002 on Frank Westerman has been working as a writer from Amsterdam. For NRC Handelsblad he wrote a dozen background stories for the Saturday supplement Z and magazine M. Focussing more on his books, he kept the number of feature articles to two or three a year.

El Negro and I

In 2004 ‘El Negro and I’ was published, with which Frank won the Golden Owl 2005. ‘El Negro and I’ was also shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for Travel Literature, the AKO Literature Prize, the MJ Brusse Prize for Journalism and the Inktaap. Translations have been published in German, Czech, French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Japanese.

 

 

Praise by Wageningen University

In 2005 Frank Westerman was awarded the Outstanding Alumnus Award by his alma mater Wageningen University, for his entire oeuvre. 

 

 

 

Ararat

Frank completed his book ‘Ararat’ - set on the fault-lines between religion and science - in February 2007. Five months before publication Harvill Secker bought the English translation rights. Meanwhile the book has been translated into ten languages. ‘Ararat’ was shortlisted for the AKO Literature Prize, the Eureka Prize for the best science book, the Bob den Uyl Prize for Travel Literature and - abroad - for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, the Polish Kapuscinsky Prize for Literary Reportage and the Italian Gaeta Prize for Travel Literature.

Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse

In September 2010 Frank published ‘Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse’: the great tragedies of the twentieth century told along the story of a horse – the Lipizzaner. Around the time of the Frankfurter Buchmesse translation rights were sold to ten countries. Producer Pieter van Huystee bought the film rights; camera operator and director Hans Fels is working on the cinem and yv-documentary ‘Bovendier’.

Remembrance Day Speech 2012

On Remembrance Day 2012, preceding the laying of reefs at the National Monument on the Dam in Amsterdam, Frank read the annual Fourth of May Speech in the Nieuwe Kerk, which was attended by the Royal family. His  speech ‘Daden van een licht kaliber’ was published by the National Committee 4 and 5 May in a special booklet, together with the Fifth of May Speech by the German President Joachim Gauck.

Children’s book

Together with his daughter Vera Westerman (born in 2002) Frank wrote the children’s book ‘Larski slaat alarm’ (ages 7 and up), that is set on the island of Schiermonnikoog during a bitterly cold Christmas. The book, published by Querido, is to be translated into Danish and was shortlisted for the Hotze de Roos Prize.

Choke Valley

Choke Valley (October 2013) is Frank’s first new book published at De Bezige Bij, which Frank joined in the summer of 2012. Two new paperback editions of ‘De Graanrepubliek’ and ‘Ararat’ (both October 2013) mark the start of the republishing of Frank’s oeuvre at De Bezige Bij. With Choke Valley (5 hardcover printruns, 5 translations due) Frank reached the shortlist of the prestigious AKO-prize for the 5th time.

Television debut

 

At the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 Frank has made his debut as a television host in the seven part series on NTR 'The Netherlands in 7 Floods'. It was broadcast weekly at prime-time on Fridays at Dutch Channel 2.

Publication and participation in Fosfor

In 2014 Frank published his journalistic longread 'The bookseller's murder' with the online publishing house Fosfor. Frank has invested the revenues if this reportage, together with an additional sum, in this Dutch journalistic start-up Fosfor, of which he is co-owner as of 2015. Het will continue to publish his books with De Bezige Bij/The Busy Bee.

Two compilations and an adaptation

In 2015 Frank compiled two collections of reportage: 'The portable Kapuscinski' and 'The first of Fosfor' (the publisher of long reads which he co-owns). The documentary Perfect Horse, inspired by his book Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse premiered at the Dutch Film Festival.

Return to Srebrenica

Twenty years after the fall of Srebrenica, Frank returned to the Bosnian enclave which he, as a young reporter, had managed to visit twice during the war. In June 2015 he published 'The battle of Srebrenica': his two former Balkan-books enhanced with a new and actual part III: 'The fall out'. The volume was awarded the 'Prince-bookprize' 2015 for best political book of the year.

A word a word; Frank as hostage negotiator

Summer 2016: A word a word (Een woord een woord). On language and terror, the 1975 and 1977 train-hijackings in the Netherlands and the "Dutch approach' to terorrism, Chechen kidnappings and the "Russian approach' and how to move on since Charlie Hebdo. For this book Frank enrolled in the Police Academy to be trained as a terrorism negotiator.

Teaching 'Reportage' at Leiden University

Autumn 2016: Frank has been appointed at Leiden University to teach literary reportage. During one of his public lectures, 'de anatomical lesson', he dissected his book El Negro and me - with a surgical knife and a pair of scissors.

 

 

Frank in 1988 on the KNSM Island

Awarding the Golden Owl 2005 in Ghent

Frank in 1997

Frank in 1999

With photographer Oleg Klimov 1999

In Grozny, Chechnya, 2000

At the Golden Owl nomination 2000

Frank in 'De graanrepubliek', 2001

Frank in 2005

Frank in 2014 in Lipica