Tag Archives: Books

Sky’s the Limit: On Bourdain, Memoir, and the Pitfalls and Potential of Travel Lit

Hey People,

Happy Pride! I’m here, I’m queer, let’s get into this new update.

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Bustle is running a series called Have Books, Will Travel, featuring essays by non-normative travel writers on the genre, so of course you know I had some things to say. I wanted to focus on how this genre is crafted in such a way to weed out commentary that isn’t 100% sunny, as in, of a leisurely or commercial nature, and how that can suppress certain necessary stories and voices. Writing memoir should seemingly rectify that, since it’s all about being vulnerable, having perspective, and being reflective of one’s actions. But let’s be real—we can do better.

Travel writers lie to themselves and their readers when they front like visiting a place makes them authorities on it, because the average white American doesn’t know many people from that place, but does have a few friends who went there once. They lie when they add a touch of self-deprecation to their stories, because humility seems smart in hindsight, and because all those people who witnessed them being annoying tourists are still in that place far away and can’t attest that these tourists haven’t learned sh*t. And too often, travel writers lie when they write like race, gender, and class are foreign concepts that exist outside of the scope of travel writing when they’re actually located at the heart of it.

I originally wrote the paragraph above using “we” instead of “they” but it was changed, and now I wonder if the hate I’ve gotten for writing this would be less so if those who are allergic to conversations about race and travel had read the original. But I immediately know the answer is no. Race is just one aspect of this dialogue and this essay isn’t even about whiteness or racism so if for some reason you feel personally attacked, figure it out I guess.

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So I was on the radio the other day and was asked about Anthony Bourdain, may he rest in peace. I thought about him in relation to this essay because it’s about honesty, about being real about your positionality in a place and as a person writing about it, even when you’re unsure about what that is, or feel uncomfortable about it. I feel that as travelers and travel writers, people who are always foreign somewhere, what we do is all about getting comfortable with the unknown. Bourdain didn’t always have easy answers or perfect politics, but he did always seem—to me, at least, and I started watching from the very beginning—to be honest about this. To ask questions he didn’t have the answers to, and to tread into other people’s homelands and homes ready to be schooled, to learn. We need more of that. And that’s all I’m tryna say here.

I try to identify the colonizer in my writing in an attempt to reach a deeper truth about how I move about the world, because from a different perspective, I have the normative voice, and I’d be a liar, and thus, a sh*tty writer, if I didn’t acknowledge that.

There’s so much revolutionary potential in writing stories about what is lost and gained in the process of migration to adhere to outdated story structures that deny the depth and complexity of our experiences. I think the way to write decolonized travel narratives is to pursue our truths, the truth, so doggedly that it leads us off the path of tradition and into terra incognita. From there, the sky’s the limit.

So what travel writers or books do you think get this right, or close to it? What do your manuscripts look like? Have you thought about any of this stuff while writing or reading travel? Do tell in the comments. You can read the essay in full here.

 

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We Belong Here: Women of Color Write Travel

Hey people. So last week, a new travel platform for women and nonbinary people of color launched called On She Goes, and I’ll have a recurring column up there on travel books authored by women of color. A lil background on the series:

People who look like us are often relegated to the backdrops of travel narratives as smiling spiritual guides on the white woman’s journey, or as nameless bodies warming the beds of the heroic, white, male adventurer, which makes taking up space in travel writing a radical act for women and gender-nonconforming folks of color. This series will speak to writers of color about their novels and memoirs of navigating lands, languages, and themselves—and most of all—about taking up space everywhere we go.

My first talk is with Nia Hampton, author of Cicatrizes, a book about a young Black woman leaving Baltimore for Brazil at the height of the Baltimore Uprising. About the book, Nia says:

I would describe Cicatrizes as an offering. It’s a book of poetry, prose, essays, pictures, and even a spell. It’s something whimsical at times and unbearably heavy at other times. It’s an experience, really, of what moving to Salvador from Baltimore was like for me as a young Black girl.

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Cicatrizes cover art by Maya Rodriguez/image courtesy of Nia Hampton

Read our talk in full here. Full disclosure: I edited this book! Working on a blog post, essay, narrative, or manuscript and looking for feedback or an editor? Check my Services page and get in touch.

April POC Travel Book Club

Hey people, I moved the POC Travel Book Club over to TinyLetter so sign up here if you wanna join! April’s book club pick is Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, available on both Kindle and in print at the link above, and we’ll be discussing it on Sunday, April 30th at 3pm EST via Google Hangout. For those of you who’ve been unable to join us, here’s a list of the books we’ve read in the past:

  • Migritude by Shailja Patel
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks
  • Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
  • Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat by Paula Young Lee

More on Black Faces, White Spaces:

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

Happy reading!

Come See Me Read in NYC December 15th

Hey people, shit’s been quiet around here because I’ve been writing like a motherfucker. I’m excited to have a wealth of new pieces get published over the next few weeks and will share them all right here. If you’re in New York, stop by Apogee Journal’s eighth issue (which you can pre-order here) launch party at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop next Thursday, December 15th at 7pm to see me read a story of mine and say hey. If you weren’t supporting diverse publications and spaces like Apogee and AAWW (and the work of diverse oppressed peoples in general) before, you def should now, before El Cheeto-in-Chief exiles us all to an island somewhere.

In other news, the POC Travel Book Club’s talk on bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place this past Sunday was dope. We discussed running away and going home, searching for severed roots  and the trauma of displacement. We talked about our relationship to the land as people of color and the possibilities that come with staying put, of not traveling. Sign up here to join us for next month’s talk (book TBA).

Bringing the POC Travel Book Club Back

hey kids, remember when we started a monthly, online book club to read travel literature by people of color earlier this year? Well I got caught up with Lifing so we had to cut it for a few months but since I conducted this Twitter poll last week and autumn is settling in, it’s a good a time as any to bring it back.

We will be reading bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place which is available for order both electronically and in print at the link above (though it’s easy to find alternatives to Amazon). These usually take place over Google Hangout on the last Sunday of each month, but seeing as that holiday where we pretend Native Americans and their colonizers got along great is happening that weekend, I’m moving the talk to Sunday, December 4th at 1pm EST. It should take a little over an hour, but you’re free to stay or leave whenever. If you’re not already on the list from earlier this year, RSVP below and I’ll invite you to our chat at a quarter to one. Try to be early (if possible, of course) so we don’t have to waste too much time on technical issues. About the book:

What does it mean to call a place home? Who is allowed to become a member of a community? When can we say that we truly belong?

These are some of the questions of place and belonging that renowned cultural critic bell hooks examines in her new book, Belonging: A Culture of Place. Traversing past and present, Belonging charts a cyclical journey in which hooks moves from place to place, from country to city and back again, only to end where she began–her old Kentucky home.

hooks has written provocatively about race, gender, and class; and in this book she turns her attention to focus on issues of land and land ownership. Reflecting on the fact that 90% of all black people lived in the agrarian South before mass migration to northern cities in the early 1900s, she writes about black farmers, about black folks who have been committed both in the past and in the present to local food production, to being organic, and to finding solace in nature. Naturally, it would be impossible to contemplate these issues without thinking about the politics of race and class. Reflecting on the racism that continues to find expression in the world of real estate, she writes about segregation in housing and economic racialized zoning. In these critical essays, hooks finds surprising connections that link of the environment and sustainability to the politics of race and class that reach far beyond Kentucky.

With characteristic insight and honesty, Belonging offers a remarkable vision of a world where all people–wherever they may call home–can live fully and well, where everyone can belong.

Sign up here!

Outside the XY Book Release Party!

Sup people. Thanks to everyone who put together and came out to the Women and Gender Nonconforming Writers of Color in Digital Media panel at Comic Con yesterday! ::inhales because that was a mouthful:: I talked about how the whiteness of the travel writing industry has encouraged travelers and writers of color to form their own platforms on social and digital media and the difficulties of traveling and freelancing while disabled, queer, nonbinary, etc.

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Disregard my resting bitch-adjacent face

If you’re in New York, come through to bklyn boihood’s Outside The XY book release party! My essay, Low Visibility, is featured in the anthology alongside works from queer Black and brown folks who are redefining masculinity. Pick up a copy here, and if you’re in the area, come say hi at the function!

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Come See Me at NYC Comic Con!

Hey kids, I’ve been in my writing den for a minute but will emerge with more interviews, articles and projects soon. For now, if you’re in the NYC area, you can come see me speak on the We Need Diverse Books panel on working as writers of color in digital media at Comic Con next Thursday, October 6th! Deets here and Facebook event heredigital-media-nycc-file

If you come through make sure to say hi! I’ll also be at the opening party for the anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, in which I have an essay on #travelingwhiletrans, on October 10th. I’ll post about that next week. In the meantimes, just wanna shout out to all the new people reading this blog after this salty white dude wrote a whole essay calling me anti-fun, anti-sun, and, gasp, anti-colonialism, all while misgendering me the entire time. I’m officially a tourism killjoy. #StayMad

[Featured photo by Neha Gautam Photography]