has been fascinated by Asia since her childhood
when she became entranced with the Buddhist sculpture
at the Seattle Art Museum.
Her first book was for children,
a collaboration with Ronnie Solbert for Fabio Coen at Pantheon,
a retelling of the adventures of the White Monkey King,
a favorite in Chinese folklore.
As she describes it,
“This is where it all began.”
The book was selected as a Best Book of the Year
by the New York Public Library.
The Wild Goose
Pagoda in Xian
It wasn’t until well after Sally finished her children’s book
that she learned the tale of White Monkey King
and his two sidekicks, Pigsy and the Monk, had a historical basis.
The absent-minded monk was based on Xuanzang,
a seventh-century Buddhist pilgrim
who spent sixteen years on the Silk Road en route to India
where he hoped to find the heart of Buddhism.
Sally traveled to China
to find out more about this contemporary of King Arthur.
Xuanzang’s History of the Western Regions,
based on his trip across Central Asia,
is all that remains of his own writing,
but the impressive Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian
stands a memorial to his contributions to both religion and government.
While her husband,
the international relations professor Howard Wriggins,
was US Ambassador to Sri Lanka,
Sally traveled all over Asia to trace Xuanzang’s exploits.
As she embraced the amazing scope of the monk’s life,
she found herself undertaking a work of serious original scholarship
to detail his travel and his accomplishments.
This was very different from the emphasis on simplicity
that had characterized
the writing of her children’s book on the same subject.
Working with maps, religious tracts, sculpture,
paintings and artifacts as well as texts,
she created a dazzling introduction to Xuanzang
who was then virtually unknown in the western world.
The Bamiya Buddhas,
before their destruction
by the Taliban
The Bamiya Buddhas,
by the Taliban in 2001
Sally Wriggins worked for ten years on the book,
enlisting the aid of Ellen E. M. Roberts of Where Books Begin
to help her find a format and a publisher
that would incorporate the array of information she had gathered.
Sally Wriggins recalls,
“was to bring Xuanzang’s journey to life for the reader.”
Because of the complexity of her subject,
Wriggins used extensive illustrative elements to enliven the text.
She scoured museums in France, India, Pakistan, Russia,
China, England, Afghanistan and America,
as well as archaeological remains in Asia
to find the works of art that represent Xuanzang’s legacy.
“That’s what makes mine different from other books on Xuanzang,”
Sally Wriggins says.
“I focus on the art,
what the pilgrim might have seen on his 10,000 mile journey.”
When Sally finished her book,
the Silk Road had not yet become a popular area of study
and very few books on the subject existed.
She had to work hard,
publicizing her book with personal appearances,
workshops and book parties.
Her focus on art helped to make the title
more accessible to the general public.
About the time of the book’s publication,
travel to China expanded;
YoYo Ma, who shares Sally Wriggins’s interest
in the Silk Road’s musical heritage became a household word;
and the US invasion of Afghanistan
brought the nether world of Central Asia
to every American’s attention.
Soon, The New Yorker and Time began to write on the subject,
referencing Sally Wriggins’s book.
Westview Press had published the book initially in 1996
without much fanfare.
They were as surprised as Sally Wriggins was
when sales picked up and Xuanzang’s reputation in the west grew.
The book was published in five languages in six other editions.
The first edition of
Sally Wriggins’s book
The second edition of
Sally Wriggins’s book
The original audience for
A Buddhist Pilgrim On the Silk Road
was largely art aficionados, trekkers and armchair Asia buffs
who enjoyed Sally Wriggins’s emphasis on images
and didn’t choke on the book’s $32 list price.
Her editor at Westview Press,
believed the book could also succeed as an academic title,
a supplemental text in a more compact format.
Sally spent the next year revising the text.
One of the sacrifices she had to make came in her beloved images.
“Academic books have a certain look to them,”
“Westview press believed that making the images smaller
would make the book appear more academic.
The original was much more of a coffee table book.”
Beyond merely shrinking the images,
Sally worked to integrate new research into her text.
This task became so enormous
that Ellen E. M. Roberts intervened
to cadge a second advance out of Westview.
In a way, the revision was as time-consuming as the original writing.
Sally Wriggins included archaeological discoveries,
newly unearthed information about Xaunzang’s life after his journey,
and the fate of Buddhist art in the hands of the Taliban.
In November of 2003,
the new edition of Sally’s book
The Silk Road Journey of
Asia on my Mind
From Ceylon to the Silk Road
Sally Wriggins has seen her fascination
with this man a millennia-and-a-half her senior
span three different books for three different markets
in many countries, in many printings. Read about Sally's life and work in her memoir, Asia on my Mind.