20 women writing about the outdoors

13 of 21

9. Freya Stark

Freya Stark had a rather bohemian start in life. She was born in 1893 in Paris, during the height of the glamorous, prosperous Belle Époque. Her father and mother were both art students in the area, though it turned out that their marriage was an unhappy one. They separated when Freya was still young.

For her ninth birthday, Freya received a copy of One Thousand and One Nights, the collection of Middle Eastern tales first compiled in Arabic. This sparked her interest in the “Orient,” a now somewhat outdated term that refers to pretty much all of the Middle East and Asia. Also, it may or may not be an offensive term, depending who you ask. At any rate, Stark became increasingly interested in the geography and culture of the region. It was only a matter of time before she traveled there.

That travel finally happened in late 1927, when Stark boarded a ship to Beirut. She had already volunteered in Italy during World War I, where she had served with a British Red Cross ambulance unit.

Travels in the Middle East

Eventually, she made her the to Iraq and Iran. In Iran, she made a series of perilous treks into the western part of the country, which contained a deep wilderness. Some parts of these remote places had never been visited by a westerner until Stark’s arrival. She told of these trips in The Valleys of the Assassins, published in 1934.

Stark continued traveling and writing through the 1930s and 1940s, publishing a number of travelogues describing the culture and landscape of the Middle East. During World War II, she joined the British Ministry of Information, a propaganda effort designed to persuade Arab people to either support Allied forces or to at least remain neutral.

After the war, she continued her travels, although a relatively brief marriage caused a pause in her publishing. She went to Turkey and Afghanistan, publishing until 1988. She died in 1993, just a few months after her 100th birthday.