Author: Guest blogger
By Jacqueline Dutton, Director, Australian Festival of Travel Writing
Why travel writing?
The armchair traveler can go anywhere thanks to adventurers who explore the ends of earth and thanks also to the less adventurous like Alain de Botton who spent a week at Heathrow airport.
The genre of travel writing includes a vast and multi-faceted array of narratives that range from the published memoir of a journey undertaken, such as Robyn Davidson’s seminal work, Tracks, to blogs that provide instantaneous access to a traveller’s whereabouts and impressions about where they’re at, like the blogsite of the peripatetic Tony Wheeler.
In between these extremes lie many different ways of musing about travel: journalistic articles in newspapers and glossy magazines, Lonely Planet guidebooks, documentary films, as well as fictional texts – short stories, poems, plays, film scripts, novels, songs – that transport us through their evocative descriptions of other places and peoples.
Since Bill Buford put travel writing on the contemporary literary agenda with his special issue of Granta in 1984, the genre has been gathering momentum to become the highly popular literary trend that it is today. Its gradual climb to prominence in the bookstore shelves and bestseller lists (Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love are recent examples) indicates that it’s not just a fashionable flash in the pan for freelance journalists who like to spend time away from the desk.
On the contrary, the travel story has evolved to become much more than a personal account of peregrination or an exposition of 1001 sights to see before you die. The intercultural, environmental and economic aspects of travelling are now paramount concerns to anyone with a social conscience, and travel writing can provide new ways to spread the word on these fundamental issues.
Reading, reflecting and writing about travel offers opportunities to convey experiences that have a significant impact on the way we see the world, and as a result influences our relations with other cultures present in our own communities. It encourages us to think about how the often obscure Other relates to our own quotidian existence. What cannot be comprehended about a migrant culture in Melbourne, for example, might somehow become clear through observations by a travel writer in contact with that culture in its original setting.
Of course, this is one of the reasons why travel has long been encouraged to broaden the mind and horizons. But not everyone can or wants to pick up and go. Travel writing proposes possibilities for armchair travel and imaginary exposure to other cultures for those who may not be in a position to take off on such adventures. It also adds to the education of those readers who do travel, presenting different perspectives and increasing understanding of the places, peoples and politics that they encounter.
A deeper level of engagement with travel through reading and writing stimulates awareness of the intercultural, environmental and economic effects of our choices, and makes us think more about the ethics and politics of travelling in general.
Travel writers can lead the way for us, representing the world in their words, and showing us how it’s possible to interpret and integrate unfamiliar experiences and encounters into our everyday understanding. They have a responsibility to demonstrate tolerance and curiosity, along with their evaluations and recommendations, and for the most part, they take their role seriously.
The Australian Festival of Travel Writing was created to promote recognition of the increasingly important roles and responsibilities of travel writers in today’s globalised society. Bringing together local and international writers and readers, this three day event is centred around three major themes of topical interest in Australia today – Dynamic India, Multicultural French Travellers, and Travel on Two Wheels.
It’s a public forum to exchange ideas and develop new strategies to promote travel and travel writing in ways that help inform our choices and reflect current cultural, environmental and economic concerns. But it’s also a great way to discover different styles of writing, find out how to improve your travelling experiences, and maybe even get inspired to start scribbling yourself.
The Australian Festival of Travel Writing
29-31 October 2010
The Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale Street