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  • Travel in Nonfiction
  • Robert Root (bio), Marilyn Abildskov (bio), Judy Copeland (bio), Carol de Saint Victor (bio), and Michele Morano (bio)

Depending, of course, on the bookstores you go into, the portion of the Travel section dedicated not to guidebooks and travelers' aids but to personal narratives, travel essays, and travel memoirs has expanded considerably in recent years. Several publishers have been soliciting short travel books from well-known writers—Edmund White on Paris (The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris) in Bloomsbury's The Writer and the City series; Edwidge Danticat on Haiti (After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti) for Crown Journeys; Jan Morris on Wales (A Writer's House in Wales) for National Geographic's Literary Travel series—and reissuing out-of-print books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—Robert Gibbings's Coming Down the Seine in Interlink's Lost and Found Classic Travel Writing series or Norman Douglas's Old Calabria in Northwestern University's Marlboro Travel series. Travel books by writers like Eric Newby, Freya Stark, and Patrick Leigh-Fermor are back in print, and travel writing by authors like Henry Thoreau, Edith Wharton, and Isabella Bird has been released in new editions. All this activity bespeaks a wide audience for narrative nonfiction centered on travel, since much of this soliciting and reissuing suggests that publishers believe not enough new travel narratives are being written to supply reader demand. That there is so much old travel writing to be reissued reminds us that this subgenre of creative nonfiction has been with us a long time; that an anthology of travel nonfiction titled The Best American Travel Writing, complete with an appended list of notable travel writing that has not been included in the collection, can be issued annually testifies to the successful continuation of this tradition. Our roundtable discussants for this issue inadvertently discovered the popularity of travel writing when, presenting panels on the subject at three recent Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conferences— [End Page 77] "The Wandering 'I': Travel Writing Across Cultures" in New Orleans 2001, "The Fruits of Travel: Food, Memory, and Movement in the Personal Essay" in Baltimore 2002, and "The Magician's Glasses: Travel Writing and the Mysterious Self" in Chicago 2003, each time with new writing—they discovered themselves speaking to standing room only audiences; even when the session was scheduled for the final time slot of the conference, the audience spilled over into the halls and lined up outside the room to listen. Four writers who have regularly been among the participants on those sessions are the panelists for this roundtable on travel in nonfiction. Marilyn Abildskov teaches at Saint Mary's College of California and is the author of The Men in My Country; two of her essays set in Japan have appeared in Fourth Genre ("Kisetsuka" in Spring 2001 and "Split" in Spring 2004). Judy Copeland won the 2003 Editor's Award from The Florida Review for "The Art of Bushwhacking," which was also cited as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2004 and The Best American Travel Writing 2004; her memoir-in-progress, "To Hear the Ants Sing," recounts Asian and African journeys. Michele Morano teaches nonfiction, including travel writing and memoir courses, at DePaul University in Chicago and is the author of essays in Fourth Genre ("The Queimada" in Spring 2000), The Georgia Review, and Under the Sun, and "Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive," winner of the 2004 John Guyon Prize in Nonfiction from Crab Orchard Review. Carol de Saint Victor is one of the founders of the MFA in Nonfiction at the University of Iowa and had all three of the other discussants as students; she has had essays published in The Iowa Review and The Missouri Review. The roundtable's moderator is Robert Root, Interviews/Roundtable Editor of Fourth Genre, whose works-in-progress include books on Colorado and on the Hudson and Rhine rivers. The roundtable discussion explores questions of genre and subgenre, the writer as traveler/traveler as writer, and the possibilities of travel not only as a subject and a theme but also as an approach to writing.

Root: The four of...


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