From Senior Projects to Real-World Careers: Alexander Maksik '91

As a student at Community School, award-winning novelist and magazine writer Alexander Maksik '91 dreamed of doing the two things he loved best: traveling and writing. In the spring of 1991, he was given the opportunity to do just that through his Senior Project. He traveled to Taveuni, Fiji’s third largest island, where he spent a month living with a family and writing about his experience.

“All I wanted in those days was to travel and write and, incredibly, the school allowed me to do just that,” says Alexander, who moved to Ketchum in 1987 when his father, Jon Maksik, took over as Headmaster (1987-2006). “Before my trip to Fiji, I’d never traveled alone or written anything of substance. The freedom I felt on that trip, the sense of possibility, was unlike anything I’d ever known. I’ve been writing and traveling on my own ever since.”

After graduating from Whitman College in 1995 with a B.A. in English, Alexander spent the next several years navigating the globe, writing, and creating a name for himself as an author. After a stint in Los Angeles where he taught middle school English, he moved on to Paris, where he taught literature and wrote travel essays for seven years. He returned to the United States in 2009 and spent three years in Iowa City. There, he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received his MFA. In 2012, he moved to New York City and in 2015, made the move to Kula, Hawaii, where he lives today with his wife, the novelist Madhuri Vijay.

As the author of three novels, Alexander has also been the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. All three of his novels have been published in more than a dozen languages. The first, You Deserve Nothing (2011), was a New York Times and IndieBound bestseller. His second, A Marker to Measure Drift (2013), was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2013, as well as a finalist for the William Saroyan Prize and Le Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger. As of press time, Alexander had adapted the novel for film. His most recent book, Shelter in Place, was named one of the best books of 2016 by The Guardian and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Alexander’s passion for travel and writing fueled by his Senior Project have also made him a respected magazine writer. As a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler, he has written about the magnificence of far-off destinations such as France’s Basque Country, Croatian islands, and Maui’s North Shore as well as the uniqueness of cities closer to home, including Boise. His thoughtful words have lit up the pages in such distinguished publications such as Harper’s, Harvard Review, The Atlantic, and Narrative Magazine.

Alexander reflects upon his time at Community School and his Senior Project as opportunities that had a profound impact upon his career path.

“I was grateful for an absence of orthodoxy,” he says. “Written into the ethos of the school in those days was a sort of democratic approach to intelligence, an acknowledgement that intelligence isn’t limited to traditional academics. As an utterly inept student, I found that attitude incredibly liberating. To solve for “x” was no more or less valuable or difficult than the ability to move elegantly across a mountain range or a soccer pitch. There was beauty and value in all of it and both my teachers and friends made that evident.”