Author Burlingame returns to his roots

Editor’s note: The Daily World recently caught up with Aberdeen native Jeff Burlingame to talk about his latest book.

Author Jeff Burlingame, a native of the Harbor and an Aberdeen High School graduate, recently released his newest book, “Olympic Peninsula, with Olympic National Park.”

A prolific writer, he also is coming off of publishing the critically praised book “George Varnell: The Life and Times of a Pioneering Sportsman” this past year.

Daniel James Brown, the bestselling author of “The Boys in the Boat,” said, “Much of what I was able to learn about the 1936 University of Washington crew team came to me through the detailed and vibrant reportage of two outstanding sports writers — Royal Brougham and George Varnell. What many readers of ‘The Boys in the Boat’ may not realize is that both men lived extraordinarily interesting lives. In this well-researched and compelling biography, Jeff Burlingame does a marvelous job of unveiling the rich and intriguing tapestry of George Varnell’s life.”

Charles R. Cross, the New York Times bestselling author of “Heavier Than Heaven” about Kurt Cobain, said about Burlingame’s book about Varnell, “George Varnell lived the kind of century-filling life that almost sounds like it’s made up: star athlete, Olympian, coach, sports writer, editor, and Seattle journalism legend. Jeff Burlingame does an excellent job of putting that life into the historical context of the times. With detailed research and skilled writing, Burlingame has crafted a compelling book I couldn’t put down.”

Burlingame said about his start as an author, “A little more than a decade ago, the favorable reviews of the book I wrote about a childhood friend who went on to forever change the face of rock and roll music catapulted me into a career field I had longed to join since I was a young child stealing Stephen King novels from a sweaty trailer park Laundromat in Aberdeen.

“I have been on TV shows and in documentaries. I owned a music public relations firm, the clients of which went on to win Grammys. I founded a nonprofit that received international attention. And my work has been an answer to a Jeopardy. question. Twice. I won the NAACP’s top award in 2012 and was nominated for it another time, finishing in the Top 5 but ultimately losing to Condoleezza Rice.

“I won a national award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013. I have written more than 30 books.”

Burlingame was also on the editorial team at The Daily World for several years.

The Daily World caught up to Burlingame recently.

Q: Tell us about your time in Grays Harbor.

A: I was born and raised very poor on the Harbor, an Aberdeen High graduate, and moved away for college. I eventually came back and worked as the entertainment editor at the World from 1997-2006, the year my first book was published. That book was a young adult biography of Kurt Cobain. That sold well and launched my career as an author. I have now written something like 35 books, for teens and for adults.

While in Aberdeen, I also co-founded the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation. We installed the Come As You Are sign in 2005. Two years ago, I received a sidewalk star in front of the Aberdeen library. One of my career highlights, for sure.

Q: Where are you now, and what are you working on?

A: I live in Browns Point (Tacoma). I am working on new editions of a couple of my previous books, as well as pecking away at my first novel.

Q: In the new book “Olympic Peninsula,” what was your target audience, and do you have a particular favorite destination/activity that is featured in the book? Does the new book differ from the one on the Olympic Peninsula that was published in 2012?

A: This is the fifth edition of the “Olympic Peninsula” book. We do one every three years. The last one was written during COVID, and I was pretty limited in what new research I could do. This one was not that way. I traveled around the Peninsula a couple times and took many, many day trips to various locations. I went everywhere, but at least half of my trips were to spots on the Harbor. So obviously I’m biased toward my hometown where my family, friends, and memories are. But, in general. I love the entire Olympic Peninsula. There is so much character and geographic diversity. I’ve hiked mountains and played in the ocean on the same day more times than I can count. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be camping or hiking somewhere in the woods, upriver, and away from crowds. Clearwater, Queets, Bogachiel, Dosewallips, Hamma Hamma, and my sentimental favorite, the Humptulips.

That book always sells well and often ranks at the top of its category on the Amazon charts. … The previous version is still the No. 1 “Olympic Peninsula” book on Amazon — three-plus years after its release.

Q: Your book “George Varnell: The Life and Times of a Pioneering Sportsman” was published last year. Can you talk a bit about that book? We were impressed by the authors who commented on the book — Daniel James Brown and Charles R. Cross.

A: Thank you. George Varnell is one of those people who should be well-known today but somehow he was missed by history. Until now, hopefully. He was Gonzaga’s first men’s basketball coach and started that program. He was an Olympic athlete, a star college football player, a referee who today still holds the record for the person who refereed the most Rose Bowl games in history. He also was a famous sportswriter, who was more famous than most of the athletes he reported on. And, oh by the way, he played a major role in getting “The Boys in the Boat” to the 1936 Olympics. Such a major role, in fact, that there is a trophy given out each year in his name and a shell that the UW Crew rowed called “The Varnell.” Yet there wasn’t much to be found on his life.

Q: You have published a wide variety of books. Can you discuss how you pick a subject?

A: Early in my author career, I took projects based on what my publishers wanted written. Then, fortunately, I was able to be more selective and only pick the projects I wanted to work on. That’s how I operate today. Varnell, for example, was pitched to me by his grandchildren. When I heard about him, I jumped at the chance to work on the project. Working on it took me all across the Pacific Northwest, and I met some amazing people along the way.

Q: Can people purchase your books locally?

A: Duffy’s in Aberdeen has the last version of my Olympic Peninsula book and they used to carry my book on Kurt, although I would guess those are sold out. Seabrook also has my Olympic Peninsula book. Other than that it’s online. But if any shops out there are interested in carrying my books, I’d be happy to help them out. The Harbor is my home!

book cover

book cover

Jeff Burlingame

Jeff Burlingame

Jeff Burlingame
One of Jeff Burlingame’s favorite spots in the Olympic Peninsula is Lake Quinault.

Jeff Burlingame One of Jeff Burlingame’s favorite spots in the Olympic Peninsula is Lake Quinault.