Tag Archives: Writing

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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Literary Ancestors: On the Significance of Travel Writing by POC

Hey people,

Popping in for another random-ass update about a month overdue. Over a year ago I started the POC Travel Book Club to get other nerds to talk to me about travel-ish books not written by white people. Now we have around 150 members who are getting ready to discuss An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, edited by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I wrote about our lil’ club as well as the legacy of whitewashing in travel literature and the significance of reading travel by POC for CNN Travel!

Shout out to Abena Clarke of MsMovingBlack blog for this gem:

“The tradition of travelers’ tales is deeply rooted in the period of imperial expansion in Europe; it is closely linked to colonialism and ‘scientific’ racism.” Travel writing provided evidence of white superiority through its representation of the exotic as barbaric, or lascivious, or simply ‘other.’ There is a lot of blood on the hands of travel writing. Then and now.”
Though it wasn’t linked to in the piece, this quote is from our talk Travel Is Not A White Boy’s Club (And Never Has Been) from back in ’14. My CNN piece includes a photo gallery of all the books we’ve read together so far, so while the club is for POC only, white folks are welcome (and encouraged) to read along on their own.

 

Part of decolonizing travel narratives is redefining what gets to be filed under travel writing and expanding it to include varying forms of migration and the unlimited stories of place and identity this experience produces. The kind of stories we read in the POC Travel Book Club.
Head here to join us. If you’re already a part of the club, then I’ll be seeing you December 10th at 2pm EST over Hangouts.

Resisting Coloniality in Travel Writing with Faith Adiele

Travel writing [is] a particularly colonized genre desperately in need of a full-frontal attack. Not only do we have to fight against the master travel narrative—an extension of the colonial project—and redefine the definition of travel, but we spend a lot of time educating POC about what travel literature is. Folks weren’t valuing their journeys as the stuff of literature, and they were letting the white gaze determine and define the world. As I always say, POC are the most traveled people on the planet; every time we leave our houses, we travel.

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    Photo by Jackie Graves

    Hey people! I’m excited to finally share my talk with the one and only Faith Adiele. She’s the award-winning author of Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun and The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems, and teaches what I’m 99.9% sure is the only travel writing workshop exclusive to people of color at the VONA/Voices workshop, which I’ve written about here, here, and here. A bite:

Travel memoirs in the hands of women and nonbinary writers of color in particular can be a revolutionary thing. While traditional story structures often fail to accommodate the ample stories of hyphenated people with “complicated” identities, it also provides an opportunity to complicate the project of memoir in new and exciting ways. It’s what Faith Adiele calls a “superpower.”

Click pic to read the interview in full

For my series of interviews with WOC authors of travel-ish books for On She Goes, Faith and I talked about writing against the trope of Westerners seeking spiritual enlightenment in the East, finding relief abroad from the racialized binary of the US, and why teaching travel writing to people of color is such vital work. When I asked her about writing her first book, Meeting Faith, (which we read in the POC Travel Book Club!) she said:

I see POC and others trying to cram themselves into the old structures that don’t represent the way we view time, the multiple codes we speak, the shapes of our families and lives. I knew that one of the reasons I had ended up shattered in northern Thailand is the pressure I experienced at college to choose between being female (a white project) or black (a male project), which felt like a choice between my arm or my eye, so I certainly wasn’t going to let narrative rules do the same kind of damage.

Every Spring, I press folks I know, readers who reach out to me, and strangers on the street, that if they are of color and interested in writing travel, to apply to work with Faith at the VONA/Voices writing workshop. It will change your life! Read our talk in full here.

[Header image by Sailor Holladay.]

My Favorite Black-Owned Restaurants in Brooklyn

Y’all might have heard of that restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that boasted about the bullet holes in their walls (which turned out to be fake) and sold 40oz bottles of Rosé in brown paper bags, because it’s a new low for gentrifiers, and a lot of people rightly got pissed. I used to live in that neighborhood, on its edge at least, and today, find it unrecognizable. But this isn’t about the politics of uninvited guests, it’s about good food! And supporting Black-owned businesses whose food cultures are under threat! But also, food!

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Via OnSheGoes.com Oh, and that’s Soleil Ho’s article in the corner, go read that too!

I highlighted some places I drop by whenever I’m in that borough, and, as is often the case with food writing, was salivating as I wrote it. Check out the guide in full here.

Here, Queer, Going Everywhere: #FlyingWhileTrans and Remembering #Pulse One Year Later

Hey people. I hope that, wherever you are, you’re being extra gay, whether you’re gay or not. (Yes it DOES make sense.) Today I wanna share two works of mine that went live last week. The lighter one is an up-to-date, well-researched, comprehensive guide to navigating air travel across different trans identities. Save a trans person some stress and share this one with ’em.

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Via Cheapflights.com

The other piece is a personal essay reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the #Pulse massacre that I wrote for Bitch Magazine. I traveled back to the times in my youth that I spent in Orlando and mused on safety, solidarity, queer Latinidad, loss and mourning, and the importance of the LGBTQIA+ movement.

Silence can only be used as a tool for survival in the short term, elsewise you’ll get gangrene of the throat. I had chosen sanctuary over blood, to live unapologetically like the other sociocultural rejects who paved the way before me, even if it meant living under attack—at the end of the day I could return to a home of my own, even when that meant no home at all.

Give it a read, share it if you’re into it, and most importantly, understand, uplift, and join the radical efforts taking place by POC and trans+ folks in pride marches across the country this June, like the #NoJusticeNoPride protest in DC last week. Corporate, mainstream, pro-police prides belie the history of Stonewall and oppress people under attack by those powers today, and they have no place in our movement.

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I’ll be back Monday to share an interview I did with the one and only Shailja Patel. ‘Til then, take care of each other and raise hell. They’re not mutually exclusive!

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.

Living for the Legacy: On Misogynoir and Climate Disasters

[Feature image from the 5th annual Congress of Afro Ecuadorian Women, 2016]

Hey people. I’m in the midst of packing to leave Ecuador for EcuaYork, my home-away-from-home-away-from-home in Queens, rather reluctantly, but also ready to see my people and eat all the things and enjoy la primavera. My knee is all messed up and my back is already aching at the thought of having to endure two flights tomorrow, but that’s #travelingwhiledisabled for ya. FYI: Yesterday’s POC Travel Book Club talk was riddled with tech issues I’m still tryna resolve, but we will be rescheduling so wait up for the next newsletter.

Today I’m sharing part four of my series on climate disasters and oppression for Bitch Magazine: Misogynoir and Climate Change: How Disaster Relief Fails Black Women. Mad thanks to France Francois and Jeri Hilt for talking to me about their experiences and thoughts on these issues. Jeri’s piece, Marine Botany and Standing Rocks, which is accompanied by video footage from a spiritual retreat for Black women in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, absolutely blew me away, as did her piece in Bitch Magazine, There Are No Survivors Without Scars, that I pulled from for my essay.

I decided a few years ago to live for the legacy and not the details, to build for three generations ahead because some battles have already been lost.

Jeri Hilt

With this essay I focused on the cumulative effects of environmental racism against Black communities coupled with the heightened levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that women, feminized, and gender non-conforming people are often exposed to in the wake of climate disasters, all which further burden Black and Afrodescendant women whose businesses, families, incomes, and livelihoods are put in jeopardy due to climate change. I also point out how the institutions in charge of distributing aid to those in need during and after disasters are flawed as fuck, and finally, stress how important it is to support environmental and climate justice work led by Black women if we really care about you know, the future of the planet. Read the essay in full here.

Also also: this series was just featured in Longreads’ Rising Up Against Climate Change: A Reading List, which was put together in response to the Science and Climate Marches. I’ve been hoping (for a while now; gotta get my shit together) to put together a comprehensive list of E+CJ groups led by BW to throw your dollars at instead of the goddamned ACLU and SPLC and probably Greenpeace or whatever liberal white folks are pushing at the moment. Stay tuned.