Mikel Dunham grew up on a cattle ranch in the Ozark Mountains. After college, he moved to New York and became a gold trader for Banque de Credit National, part of Edmond Safra’s privately owned banking empire. This was followed by three years traveling through Europe—living in Paris, Munich and on the island of Crete.
Dunham’s work in fine art and photography preceded his writing. In the 1980s, he returned to New York City where he concentrated on a visual arts career, creating three-dimensional constructions of wood, glass, mirror, photographs and acrylic media. The Alexander F. Milliken Gallery represented his work. The Milliken mounted numerous solo exhibitions in Soho, as well as group installations in the US and abroad.
In 1989, Dunham published his first novel, the murder mystery "Stilled Life", followed by its 1992 sequel "Casting for Murder", (St. Martin’s Press).
1989 also marked the first of many treks in the Himalaya. Fascinated with the culture and people of Central Asia, Dunham studied with Tibetan lamas. He also became the last student of the late thankha master, Pema Wangyal of Dolpo. He spent the next four years learning how to mix mineral pigments, line-brush in 22-carat gold and paint Tibetan iconography in the traditional Amdoan and Khampa manners.
This led to Dunham’s commission to paint the murals for a Tibetan monastery in Sarnath, India—one of eight major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the murals in 1997. He then became artistic director for a much larger Tibetan mural project—a three-year commitment—in upstate New York.
In 2000, the Vajrakilaya Foundation selected Dunham to travel to Tibet and photograph Samye, Tibet’s first monastery. The foundation’s concern was to record on film every mural that still remained intact, taking into account the fragility and uncertainty of Samye’s future. He was given full access to the many chapels and lived within the compound. This resulted in his third publication, "Samye: A Pilgrimage to the Birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism" (2004, Jodere Group), a photography book interspersed with historical text. The foreword to Samye is written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Dunham’s next book was "Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA-Backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet", published in 2005 by Tarcher/Penguin New York. Seven years in the making, Buddha’s Warriors is a history largely based on interviews with Tibetan resistance fighters and the CIA Task Team who secretly trained them in the late 1950s and early 60s. The Indian/Pakistani edition of Buddha’s Warriors (Penguin/India) came out in November 2005. The Japanese translation (Kodansha Publishers) came out in May 2006. The French translation (Actes Sud Publishers) came out in December 2006. This was followed by the Tibetan translation, published in Dharamsala and the Czech translation in 2010 (Paseka Publishers, Prague). The Chinese translation is forthcoming. "Buddha’s Warriors" is Dunham’s second book with a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The author has spent much of the last few years promoting awareness of Tibetan issues. He has lectured at college campuses throughout the United States. Venues have included Harvard University, Columbia University, Smith College, Brandeis, the Asian Religions and Cultures Initiative of UCLA, University of Virginia, Amherst, University of San Francisco, Tibet House New York, Indiana University, University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, New York University, San Diego Art Institute, Hampshire College, Colby College, NPR radio (Chicago), Middlebury College, University of California Santa Barbara, International Campaign for Tibet (Washington, DC), Stanford University and many more, including events and interviews in Nepal, India and Japan.
His photojournalist career includes the publication of Rizzoli International's "The Divine Art of Tibet", based on his photographs of Tibetan monastic murals.
In 2008, "Le goût du Tibet" was published in France, an anthology of articles about Tibetan culture, religion and political history. Other authors included in the book are H.H. the Dalai Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche, Pema Chodron, Henrich Harrier, Alexandra David-Neel, Milarepa and Antonin Artaud, among others.
In 2012, he published "Caught in Nepal: Tibetan Refugees Photographing Tibetan Refugees", Vajra Publications (Nepal). Part photography book, part ruminations on the 2000-year-old relationship between Nepalis and Tibetans, this book was the result of Dunham having distributed digital cameras to Tibetan refugees stranded in Nepal and was funded by the William Hinman Foundation.
in 2015, The Nepal Scene: Chronicles of Elizabeth Hawley, 1988-2007 was published. Dunham was co-editor along with Lisa Choegyal, Nepal's New Zealand Honorary Consul. This political history is 2400 pages and published in a two-volume set by Vajra Publications, Kathmandu. Dunham wrote the postcript and was responsible for the book design and cover art.
Also in 2015, Dunham edited the English translation of The Autobiography of Rookmangud Katawal''. He also wrote the Foreword. Published in 2016 in Kathmandu.
Currently, Dunham is working on a novel.
Dunham has written articles for Harvard South Asian Journal, The Daily Beast,Tricycle Magazine, and a four-part report on child prostitute trafficking in Asia for Tehelka, among other publications. He has been interviewed by NPR, Radio Free Asia, Asia Times, Times of India, Indian Express, among many others..
FILM AND TELEVISION:
Dunham co-stars in the History Channel's TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD (2007), Al Jazeera/English Television's THE TIBETAN REFUGEE CRISIS IN NEPAL (2008), the KefiWorks documentary THE CIA IN TIBET (theatrical release forthcoming), 'THE DRAGON, a Spanish film on the Tibetan freedom fighters and the resultant refugee situation in Nepal, produced by Antropoduocus Produccions, Barcelona, Spain, and co-starring His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere). He is featured in Sophie Dia Pegrum's TALKING TO THE AIR: THE HORSES OF THE LAST FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2014), which had its debut at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF).
Dunham is a faculty member of Tibet House New York, the National Press Club of Washington, the California Authors Association, is on the Advisory Board of Pacifica Public Radio's "The Tibet Connection", and has served as the lecture-tour spokesperson for Students for a Free Tibet. He has been featured on various Public Radio programs, as well as a special on AlJazeera television on the Tibetan Refugee problem in Nepal.
Dunham and his wife have two sons.