Ryszard Kapuściński was one of the most important columnists in the world. He played the classic journalist who went to the scene of the facts, sometimes risking his life, to retrieve the information. Throughout his career he has witnessed 27 revolutions and been on 12 war fronts. He was also sentenced to death four times and contracted malaria and tuberculosis while searching for information.
One of the most important aspects of Ryszard Kapuściński is that his journalism was not focused on power figures but on the most humble. Above all, he sought – and found – the effect of great facts from the very heart of the societies in which they took place.
Throughout his life, he wrote around 30 books, in addition to an endless number of articles, essays and poems. He was not just a rigorous researcher: he was also a wonderful writer. For critics, his best work is Ebène (The Shadow of the Sun), a fabulous collection of chronicles that narrate the fall of colonialism on the African continent. Other works such as The Emperor, The Football War or Un cynique might not be suitable for this profession have also toured the world.
Ryszard Kapuściński, a poor child
No detailed biography of Ryszard Kapuściński has yet been published and much data about his life is still unknown. However, in his work Voyages avec Hérodote, he speaks of his childhood. It is known that he was born on March 4, 1932 in the Polish city of Pinsk, which today is part of Belarus. Kapuściński points out that it was the poorest place in his country and probably in all of Europe.
Poverty and war were present in his life from the moment he was born. He tells us that he knew Warsaw, that he has always loved, when he was 12 years old. He visited this city, like other Polish cities, as a refugee. His family was constantly on the move to flee the ensuing armed conflicts.
This poverty and these continuous displacements have totally marked his vision of the world. From an early age, he knew his destiny was to “cross borders”. That’s why he never stopped traveling. “The meaning of life is to cross borders,” he once said. He was also fascinated by third world countries, where he saw all the reminiscences of his own childhood.
Traveler and reporter
Ryszard Kapuściński studied history, but deep down a reporter wanted to speak. So he started by working for a small newspaper. At 32, the Polish News Agency hired him… From there, he embarked on a journey that took him to Africa, Asia, Europe and America. His work quickly aroused great admiration.
In a posthumous biography, the only one that has existed so far, Ryszard Kapuściński was said to actually work for the secret service of the Polish government. So far, no one has corroborated or denied this information.
If that turned out to be true, his work would not be tainted. He always knew how to take the point of view of the less privileged with magnificent prose. Kapuściński had a search method similar to that of a spy. He plunged into the different themes with an unbridled passion. And he didn’t get out of it until he found tiny details that illustrated reality.
A famous chronicler
Over time, Ryszard Kapuściński’s fame became universal. Gabriel García Márquez even contacted him to be part of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano. He has also been a professor at several universities and has given countless lectures. His work has earned him several awards.
He firmly believed that in order to speak of a fact one had to know its history in detail. He never immersed himself in a reality without having thoroughly consulted its history and having formed a clear idea of the causes and consequences of a specific situation. Ryszard Kapuściński was the type of journalist who walked through critical areas on foot, reflecting on this reality deeply and narrating it in such a way that every human being could understand what was at stake.
In this era of journalists obsessed with fame and, in general, trivial and rushed, Ryszard Kapuściński is a solid role model. The model of a person passionate about his profession, but also of impeccable ethics, where the truth and the recipient of the latter are the things that matter most.