Writing Outside the Mainstream #Dispatch: Elaine Lee

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Elaine Lee is an avid world traveler, travel writer and media maven. She is the editor of Go Girl: The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure as well as a freelance travel writer who has contributed to numerous national and local magazines, newspapers and webzines. Her travel stories generally address subjects such as African American travel trends, adventure, women’s travel issues, spirituality, solo travel, health, budget travel and travel planning. She has also contributed stories to five anthologies and two books.

Bani Amor: With Go Girl!, did you get the sense that you were doing something radical, even if that wasn’t your intention?

Elaine Lee: At the time that I put together my book I could not find any other travel books geared to the African-American traveler, so I knew it was a novel idea, but never thought of it as ‘radical’, per se. Since my book has come out there have been at least 20 more written on the subject so I feel honored to be a maverick of sorts.

Bani: What kind of response did you get from African-American woman travelers after Go Girl! came out?

Elaine: Spirited. Almost all book signing events were standing room only but I didn’t get as much press as I thought I would. I only sold 5,000 books but had expected to sell the 7,000 published and be in my second edition by now.

Bani: What has your experience with racism been like in the travel media biz, if any?

Elaine: I primarily write for the African-American travel audience and have rarely crossed over to the mainstream. African-American travel does not seem to be of interest to the mass media.

Bani: Was that a choice you made – not to cross over to the mainstream – or was it more circumstantial?

Elaine: Both – I am primarily interested in reaching the African-American traveler but don’t really have any other options anyway.

Bani: If you could change one thing about travel media, what would it be?

Elaine: I wish there was a way that I could produce or host a black travel television show.

Bani: Which people of color have inspired you in your adventures?

Elaine: Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, Nancy Prince and Ida B. Wells.

Bani: What advice would you give young travel writers of color starting out in the industry?

Elaine: Its a difficult field to break into but folks are carving out niches and succeeding. I was recently invited to audition to host a TV show for The Travel Channel. Even though I didn’t get the job, the fact that they sought me out and considered me means having a black person doing mainstream travel TV is a possibility. Look how well Tracey Findley, Evita Robinson and Rue Mapp are doing!!! There is hope. Follow your bliss and doors will open.

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